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Snow crews

Bismarck city snow crews were out in force Wednesday morning in minus-33 degree temperatures removing snow from Avenue E and Second Street near St. Mary's Central High School. 

With temperatures falling to 30 below zero and wind chills in the 50 and 60 below zero range earlier this week, most North Dakotans took precautions to avoid the numbing cold.

Some schools and businesses closed doors for safety's sake while emergency shelters made room for those with nowhere else to go.

Bis-Man Transit halted bus and paratransit transportation on Wednesday in response to the cold weather. On Thursday, with temperatures moving above zero for the first time in several days, Bis-Man Transit returned to normal operations, according to executive director Roy Rickert.

When the temperature reaches 10 below zero, staffers get together to determine whether to continue operations, Rickert said. Bis-Man Transit averages about 1,000 trips a day either through the bus system or paratransit operations.

"It wasn’t safe for anyone to be outside in that weather," Rickert said. "It was a safety issue for passengers, drivers and equipment. We all got together and decided how to proceed based on information from the National Weather Service."

While Bis-Man Transit has shut down operations in the past due to weather, it was usually in response to heavy snow or a combination of snow and subzero temperatures. This is the first time, in Rickert’s memory, that cold alone was the determining factor for the closure.

Sister Kathleen Atkinson, founder of Ministry on the Margins, which provides services to the homeless and low-income individuals, said she has seen an increase this week in the number of people coming to the ministry just for the warmth.

"I know there were at least four people living in their vehicles that spent some bitter nights in their cars," Atkinson said. "For people living on the edge or without any excess, anything that breaks down becomes an emergency crisis."

With the colder temperatures, Atkinson said there's also been a greater need for Ministry on the Margins' food pantry. This week, she said her organization also has handed out donated clothing and other items.

"People were fantastic, coming by and donating coats and old sleeping bags," Atkinson describes. "We had three people come walking in Tuesday morning with inadequate footwear and no socks. We’re sending those items out as fast as we can. Winter isn’t over and we have people coming in all the time to keep donating."

Bismarck crews continued to battle slippery road conditions on Thursday. Salt brine is being added to the sand and salt crystals allowing it to melt the ice below 18 degrees, according to a news release from the city.

When temperatures are below zero degrees, the salt water encapsulating the salt crystal doesn’t melt the ice and is blown off the streets by vehicle traffic and the wind, the release said. As of Tuesday, crews have applied more than 600 tons of sand to Bismarck roads to provide traction and to grind off the ice.

Business is booming for local towing operators, including Berg’s Towing and Ace Towing. Since early Tuesday phones have been ringing off the hook as drivers call in for some help, according to company officials.

"We’ve been slammed," said Todd Jenest, Ace office manager. "It’s been literally nonstop for two days."

Berg’s fleet manager George Kuntz says much the same.

"The semi work has been extremely busy," Jenest said. "We’ve had eight semi wreckers out nearly all the time across the state, starting Tuesday and all day Wednesday."

Kuntz and Jenest said they've responded to many calls from out-of-state semi truck drivers caught by surprise by frigid temperatures and were unprepared for the toll it took on their trucks.

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Reach Gordon Weixel at 701-250-8256 or