Highways were left open for travel, officials say, but not recommended
Dangerous road conditions in Saskatchewan Tuesday did not prompt officials to close any routes as a precaution, although some roads were later shut down due to crashes.
Milder temperatures, combined with snow and blowing snow, presented drivers with low visibility and icy roads leading to 47 crashes, according to RCMP.
"They should have shut this road down when this wind started blowing and this never would have happened," Mike Brey, a truck driver who was at the scene of a crash near Belle Plaine west of Regina, told CBC News Tuesday night. "They should give the RCMP the authority to shut the roads down."
Brey said he deliberately drove his rig into the ditch to avoid hitting people.
Another motorist at the scene, Taylor Nepper, told CBC News that driving conditions seemed OK when he started his journey on Highway 1 but quickly got worse when winds whipped up snow and reduced visibility.
Officials said Wednesday that the driving conditions, while poor, did not warrant the pre-emptive closing of any highway.
"The visibility never got below 200 metres," Doug Wakabayashi, a spokesman for the provincial Highways Ministry, said. "We were in a situation where certainly the travel not recommended warning was put in place, that was warranted."
RCMP explained they do not have authority to shut down highways due to weather, but they do advise the ministry when conditions get bad.
On Tuesday night a crash near Belle Plaine, on Highway 1, did prompt police — in concert with highways officials — to close a section of the highway while the accident was cleared.
A warning about poor highway conditions between Moose Jaw and Regina was issued around 4:20 p.m. CST Tuesday.
Meanwhile, a pilot from the agency in Saskatchewan that provides emergency medical services using helicopters said weather conditions on Tuesday forced them to stay put.
CBC News learned the STARS Air Ambulance service was not deployed for an EMS call that arrived Tuesday afternoon.
Jacques Poirier, STAR's Regina base manager — and a pilot — explained they must ensure helicopter crews are safe.
"Flight safety is always paramount because we can't put the crew in jeopardy," he said. "It doesn't accomplish anything if we put ourselves in jeopardy as well and can't get to the scene."
In the crash near Belle Plaine, a road ambulance had a difficult time contending with the conditions, although police said no one was taken to hospital as a result of the crash.
RCMP also noted Tuesday that emergency responders were having trouble reaching their destinations because of traffic tie-ups.
They said motorists should try to pull over if they come upon a line of traffic at a crash scene, so that a lane is open for emergency vehicles.
On Tuesday, hundreds of motorists were stuck waiting in either Moose Jaw or Regina for the highway to reopen after the crash near Belle Plaine was cleared away.
Many found detours which took them out of their way but allowed them to continue on.
The highway was partially reopened around midnight.
With files from CBC's Kent Morrison