NEWS 12.29.20: Winter Storm, IA and NE C-19 Vaccine Update, Sioux City Coal Plants and More

Dec 29, 2020

Credit National Weather Service

Winter storm warnings and advisories are posted for all of Siouxland. Moderate to heavy snow could continue into tonight according to the National Weather Service.  Accumulations of 3 to 7 inches of snow expected, with higher amounts possible along with some drifting snow.

Credit National Weather Service

The National Weather Service issued winter storm warnings for parts of Nebraska, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, South Dakota, Wisconsin and Illinois.

By Tuesday morning, snow was so heavy in western Nebraska that Interstates 80 and 76 were closed in both directions after several accidents.

Cars head west along West Center Road towards 139th Street as blowing snow limits visibility, Tuesday morning, Dec. 29, 2020, in Omaha, Neb.
Credit Associated Press

Authorities in Omaha, Nebraska, and in the Kansas City area also reported several accidents blamed on slippery roads.

Travel is not advised in central Iowa according to an official with the Iowa State Patrol. He told KCCI-TV in Des Moines road conditions have deteriorated very rapidly across the state contributed to several crashes across the state.

The Iowa Department of Transportation reported slick roads over more than half of the state. Roads in northwest Iowa are partially covered with snow, according to the latest information from Iowa 511.

The Iowa Department of Public Health reported 67 more COVID-19 related deaths and almost 1,500 new cases of the novel coronavirus in a 24-hour period.

There have been 38 new cases added to the total case count in Woodbury County in a 24-hour period, for more than 12,100 cases since the start of the pandemic and 163 deaths.  The 14-day test positivity rate is 13.4%, that’s down 1/10th of a percentage point from the day earlier.

Credit Siouxland District Health

Crews have started vaccinating people in Iowa's nursing homes, bringing hope that families will soon be able to visit the isolated residents, although it could take weeks to complete the vaccination drive.

The government has contracts with three pharmacy companies to vaccinate nursing home residents and staff. They started yesterday.

The Iowa Health Care Association says Iowa has about 31,000 residents and 37,000 staff members in 445 nursing homes and 258 assisted living facilities.

Nebraska school districts are working to determine how many of their employees want the coronavirus vaccine, so health officials can be ready to deliver them. School employees are one of the next groups of people scheduled to get the vaccine after health care workers and residents of long-term care facilities who are getting vaccinated now.

The educators are likely to get the vaccine in January or February along with first responders and other essential workers. State health officials say more than 20,000 doses of the vaccine have been administered in Nebraska so far.

Health experts are worried that gatherings over the Christmas and New Year’s holidays could lead to a spike in new virus cases in Nebraska in the weeks ahead.

Over the past two weeks, the average number of new cases reported each day has fallen from roughly 1,300 to 846 on Sunday.

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) — A South Dakota lawmaker says she will be participating in the upcoming legislative session remotely until she receives a vaccine for COVID-19. Rep. Linda Duba, a Sioux Falls Democrat, informed legislative leadership she will stay away from the Capitol building during the upcoming legislative session out of concern for her health, the Argus Leader reports. The 64-year-old lawmaker says she will not attend meetings in-person until she receives two doses of a vaccine. The Legislature is set to convene in Pierre on Jan. 12 for a two-month session. Rules and protocols for the session have not been set.

FILE - In this Feb. 23, 2014, file photo Jason Ravnsborg speaks in Sioux Falls, S.D. Ravnsborg said he's confident he didn't commit a crime when he struck and killed a man as he drove along a dark highway in September 2020. It's the first time Ravnsborg has talked publicly about the crash that killed 55-year-old Joseph Boever along Highway 14 near Highmore
Credit Associated Press

A team of prosecutors is waiting for testing results on a piece of debris that may show where the South Dakota attorney general’s car was when he struck and killed a man over three months ago. A decision on whether to charge Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg in the Sept. 12 crash has been delayed for months, prompting criticism from Gov. Kristi Noem. Crystal Johnson, the Minnehaha County state’s attorney who is assisting in the case, says that she does not have a time frame for the results of additional testing on an unusual item of debris, but the results may indicate where Ravnsborg's car was.

RAPID CITY, S.D. (AP) — More arguments are being filed in a lawsuit seeking to overturn a citizen-approved constitutional amendment legalizing marijuana. Pennington County Sheriff Kevin Thom and South Dakota Highway Patrol Superintendent Rick Miller filed a lawsuit last month challenging the constitutionality of the amendment, which legalized the cultivation, transport, possession and sale of marijuana in in the state. Plaintiffs are arguing in court filings that the amendment  violates the South Dakota Constitution in harmful ways, while the defendants say it doesn’t and that the lawsuit was filed too late. South Dakota in November became the first state to legalize recreational and medical pot on the same ballot.

Authorities have released some additional details about the suspicious death of a 25-year-old woman last week in a small lake community in northwestern Iowa.

The Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation said Monday that Angel Bastman was found dead in her home in Lake Park a week ago.

Her death is being treated as a homicide. Four days after Bastman's body was discovered, police in Sioux City located a vehicle she had rented and tried to stop it, but the driver fled.

The 23-year-old driver of that vehicle was arrested for fleeing police after the vehicle crashed. Authorities are still investigating Bastman's death.

Three environmental groups are calling on MidAmerican Energy to retire its coal power plants in order to save Iowa ratepayers millions of dollars.

Sierra Club analysis of the utility’s numbers found it lost 27 million dollars over the past five years by operating two coal plants in Sioux City.

In filings with state regulators, the Sierra Club, the Environmental Law and Policy Center, and the Iowa Environmental Council argue the company’s latest emissions plan doesn’t meet state standards for operating in a cost-effective way.

Kerri Johannsen is the I-E-C’s Energy Program Director.

“The argument we’re making is that MidAmerican’s plan does not meet that standard of managing these emissions cost-effectively because shutting down the plants would be more cost effective.”

The Iowa Utilities Board is reviewing the company’s plan and is slated to hold a hearing in February.

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — Federal regulators say the railroad industry has installed an automatic braking system on nearly 58,000 miles of track where it is required ahead of a yearend deadline. Federal Railroad Administration chief Ronald Batory said Tuesday that railroads worked together over the past 12 years to develop and install the long-awaited technology known as positive train control. The roughly $15 billion braking system is aimed at reducing human error by automatically stopping trains in certain situations like when it’s in danger of colliding, derailing because of excessive speed, entering track under maintenance or traveling the wrong direction because of switching mistakes.