SDDOT 'Blizzard Bracket' pits snow plow against snow plow in tournament format

Mar. 26—PIERRE — Even if your favorite team has been eliminated from the NCAA men's and women's basketball tournaments, you can still cheer on your favorite South Dakota Department of Transportation snow plow as it vies for supremacy in the 2024 Blizzard Bracket.

The tongue-in-cheek tournament pits 32 SDDOT snow plows against each other in a single-elimination tournament bracket, with the public voting on each matchup to decide which cleverly named plow advances to the next round. The 2024 tournament, which kicked off March 17, is at the Snowy Sixteen stage.

The bracket is a way to get out department messaging about winter travel safety as the last throes of winter 2023-24 begin to fade away.

"We wanted to get our winter messaging out, particularly on our road conditions and safe driving practices, so we were looking for a fun way to engage them on our social media and trying to get them to our sites where they can hopefully have a little fun," said Craig Smith, director of operations for the South Dakota Department of Transportation.

The tournament, in its second year, is an offshoot of the yearly snow plow naming contest held by the department, which began four years ago. For this year's naming contest, the public submitted candidate names for plows in the latter part of 2023, with department employees selecting the winners in December.

The department selects one winner of the naming contest from each of the 12 areas covered by the SDDOT. The names are traditionally pun-heavy, with this year's winners including Snow-key The Bear from the Custer area, Saltosaurus Rex from Huron area and Plow Bunyan from the Mitchell area. Each plow has its new name applied to its windshield.

The Blizzard Bracket then pits those 12 winners against other named snow plows from around the state. The public can vote on each round of the tournament at places like the

SDDOT website

as well as its



Instagram pages.

Votes determine which plows advance to the Abominable Eight, and then to the Frosty Four and finally the Blizzard Bracket championship on April 8.

Smith said the naming contest and tournament is a good engagement tool, allowing SDDOT officials to connect with the public and also for department employees. Snow plow drivers, in particular, get a chance to have a little fun with the people they clear the roads for in their respective regions.

"Our drivers have really had a lot of fun. Not just with the Blizzard Bracket, but also the naming part of that. They get to engage with their local communities and the people they are serving. Our staff are having a lot of fun with that," Smith said.

Last year's Blizzard Bracket had about 70,000 votes cast in the contest, which saw a Sioux Falls-based plow named Blizzard Buster come out on top of the inaugural bracket. Though the tournament is primarily about getting the word out about highway safety and the winner only receives bragging rights for the year, it was a tremendous voting turnout, Smith said.

"We thought people would have fun with it, but we certainly didn't anticipate that kind of engagement. Seeing 70,000 votes cast, we know people are — one, having fun with it, and — two, getting our messaging about highway safety, particularly winter driving safety," Smith said.

The recent snowstorm is a good example of why drivers need to stay prepared for adverse weather, even though spring has officially already arrived, Smith said.

"Just be aware of the conditions. What we saw with this (storm), we had a lot of icy conditions, it can go from a dry road to icy very quickly. We had a lot of jackknifed semis and things like that that caused some travel problems for a lot of people. So being aware of your conditions when you're driving and not over overdriving those conditions (is important)," Smith said.

He said drivers should remain aware of road conditions before heading out. He recommended checking

for the most up-to-date road and weather conditions. Drivers should plan their travel route, let someone know of their travel plans and to allow for extra travel time when road conditions dictate it.

Having an emergency kit in your vehicle and avoiding using a cell phone is also good advice. And, of course, don't crowd the plow, Smith said.

Those at the department only want drivers to arrive safely at their destination, and being prepared can help ensure that.

"The big one is if you do have to travel in winter conditions, just be using the information that's out there and drive accordingly," Smith said.