By Jake Lindblom
Jake Lindblom is majoring in Atmospheric and Environmental Sciences with a minor in Geospatial Technology. He plans to study atmospheric science in graduate school after earning his bachelor’s degree.
As most Rapid City residents know, snow can be quite a pain to drive in. The roads are treacherous, it’s hard to see, and it just feels dangerous. As a driver, you may presume that more snow on the road equates to more hazardous driving conditions, but does this mean more crashes actually occur? Might you, as a driver, try to avoid those hazardous conditions and choose to stay at home? Furthermore, while you may think you can handle driving in small, frequent snow events, could this be a false confidence?
These are some of the questions I’m trying to answer in my research project. As a student in the Atmospheric and Environmental Sciences Program, I’m interested in operations research, or how to apply what we know about the atmosphere to the “real world” for the benefit of the community.
But I’m also a snow fanatic, or someone who is irrationally excited about frozen water falling from the sky. Hailing from Olympia, Washington, snow was a rarity, but occasionally we received a good dumping. The largest of these dumps occurred in February 2019, when I measured 22 inches of snow in my backyard!
A pond covered in snow near my house in western Washington during the February 2019 snowstorm. Snowfall totals ranged widely across the area, but my house measured 22 inches… the most I had ever seen in the Puget Sound lowland (photo credit: Jake Lindblom).
This event completely shut down the city. Nobody moved (in fact, my family couldn’t get out of our driveway for a couple days). In a scenario like this, driving would certainly be dangerous, if not impossible. But there are undoubtedly fewer drivers on the road as well. So, should first responders, city officials, and emergency managers expect greater or fewer crashes overall?
In a place like Rapid City, which averages much more snow than Olympia (about 48 inches, actually), the question of how snowfall impacts car crashes is much more pertinent.
The November 2019 snowstorm on the South Dakota Mines campus. Snowdrifts were several feet high, as seen here. The storm set a record for the snowiest November in Rapid City (photo credit: Jake Lindblom).
This question seemed like the perfect project for me. It deals with one of my favorite things about the atmosphere (snow) and applies it to a good cause: helping the community understand how snow affects car crash counts. In this capstone project, I hope to identify a causal relationship (if any) between snowfall measurements and vehicle crash counts. I hypothesize that relatively small snowfall events (less than 3 inches measured) may contribute to more crashes than major events (6 inches or more). People may have more confidence in their driving abilities when “only” a few inches of snow cover the ground and may continue on with their daily errands versus when a major snowstorm discourages them from leaving home. If I have time, I’d like to develop a car crash “forecaster” based on expected snowfall and possibly other meteorological variables (like temperature or visibility). But for now, I think I have my plate full!