By Troy Wolbersen, Douglas County sheriff
My second grandson was born this year and is about to experience his first Minnesota winter. That means his parents, and grandma and I, will have to make some changes in our vehicles. We’ll have to add some extra supplies to our winter emergency kits to make sure he and his brother have what they need if we end up stranded on the road.
On our winter roads, even the best drivers can end up in the ditch or stuck in a snowdrift. We all like to think we are tough enough to get through a few hours in a cold car, but we have to consider who else is or may be traveling with us. Young children and elderly people may need some different things. I hope that everyone has some basic items in their vehicles: extra hats, gloves, a blanket, a flashlight with batteries that work, a shovel, a few snacks and a charger for your cell phone. If you call 911 for help, our 911 dispatchers can use the coordinates from your phone to locate you if you aren’t sure of your location. Folks that have an old flip-phone, may want to consider upgrading to a phone with today’s technology.
Occasionally during the winter months, I will recommend no unnecessary travel. I do that for your safety and the safety of my deputies and emergency responders that may need to come rescue you. Douglas County, our cities, and townships do not have enough personnel to plow snow 24 hours a day. The State of Minnesota is able to plow state and federal highways 24 hours a day with the personnel and funding it has. Because of this, there can be confusion regarding safe travel. Our county, city or township roads may not be safe for travel while the state and federal roads are clear. I can tell you that our public works employees are up early and out late getting the roads cleared and keeping them cleared. Our county crews have 550 miles of roadway, our 20 townships have 700 miles of roadway and our 11 cities have their streets to keep safe for travel. There are approximately 110 miles of state and federal roads in Douglas County.
When no unnecessary travel is recommended, please take that seriously. It means go to your job or an important medical appointment if you have to, but don’t run an errand that can wait or drive after dark if it isn’t necessary. Wait the storm out at home if you can. If you have an emergency during a snowstorm, call 911. We will find a way or make one to get to you. Over the years, our public works department has made a way for us more than once.
I’ll end with a few winter travel reminders:
Tell someone your travel plans and your expected arrival time.
Make sure your vehicle’s lights are on if there is fog or precipitation.
Stay at least five car lengths behind a snowplow.
Fill your gas tank frequently. The weight of the gas helps with traction, and you can run your engine periodically if you get stranded.
When approaching an intersection, brake early. It may be icier than you realize.
Always remember, it is every driver’s responsibility to drive at a speed that is safe for the current road conditions.
The sheriff’s office hopes everyone has a safe winter and we are ready to help when you need us.
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Troy Wolbersen is the Douglas County sheriff. In the Know is a rotating column written by community leaders from the Douglas County area.