Brian Heskin has a very important date — and neither snow nor wind nor region-wide travel advisories were going to stop him.
Heskin, who studies English at Minot State University, is an avid weather photographer and storm-chaser, running the well-followed account “Dakota Storm Stalkers” on Facebook. The news of the unseasonable snow and ice storm sweeping through North Dakota was big, and he was ready to see it up close and slip through the storm in his four-door sedan.
It was not, however, the sole impetus for the journey.
“The main reason (is) I’m trying to get to Minneapolis for the Vikings game,” Heskin said in a brief conversation Friday afternoon via social media messenger. “(I) stayed in Devils Lake (Thursday) night so I’d be in the middle of it first thing in the morning. I also knew that I would just need to make it to Grand Forks ... since snow really cuts off east of there. Many will probably criticize me for making the choice to drive, but I had everything timed out perfectly. Highways closed once I passed through. But the conditions were awful. Driving slow is key.”
Much of North Dakota was slammed with rain, wind and snow as a weather system led to closed roads, closed schools and weather warnings across North Dakota. The state Department of Transportation issued a no-travel advisory in northeast North Dakota, which included Grand Forks and nearby cities like Grafton and Pembina.
Heskin is not one to be deterred by strong weather, though. In an extensive July interview with The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead, Heskin shared a story of getting “a little closer than I should have” to a Nebraska tornado, and recalled darting back and forth across a severe weather front in Montana, watching the temperature swing dozens of degrees. It’s part of a lifelong obsession with weather that he regularly posts about on the Dakota Storm Stalkers Facebook page, which has more than 90,000 followers.
“Had whiteout conditions from Devils Lake to Lakota earlier. Drove about 5-10 mph. 50-100 foot visibility after that,” he told the group in a post on Friday afternoon. “Lots of cars and trucks in the ditch. Conditions improved a bit the further east we got as the temp increased a couple degrees. That will be changing quickly though. Made it east of Grand Forks. Passed the snow gradient so it's mostly just mist on the Minnesota side. I'm assuming at least 1-2 inch an hour snow rate around Devils Lake.”
The drive through northeast North Dakota, he said, had remarkably thick snow.
“I've never seen snow that heavy before when we made it through Devils Lake,” he said. “You couldn't even breathe outside. … You'd just inhale flakes and flakes.”
Sgt. Wade Kadrmas of the North Dakota Highway Patrol strongly advised against venturing out to drive in the storm.
“I know there’s a lot of roads up in the northeast part of the state that show no travel advised. That’s up there for a reason: to make sure people don’t travel on these roadways,” he said. “The likelihood of the roads that are not officially closed … having conditions that are just as bad if not worse than the Interstate — it’s highly likely. We don’t urge people to do that kind of stuff.”