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December 5, 2013

I'M HERE! Winter marks arrival in Southern Indiana

Locals, state officials prepare for threat of winter storm

> SOUTHERN INDIANA — Bundle up, folks. Winter has arrived.

Rain was expected to turn to sleet, ice and possibly snow as a winter storm was anticipated to push through Southern Indiana starting Thursday night and last through Saturday morning, with more winter weather predicted for Sunday.

Louisville’s National Weather Service issued a winter storm warning that will be in effect from 10 p.m. Thursday night to 1 a.m. early Saturday morning.

According to the National Weather Service forecast, a cold front was expected move through the area Thursday night. Rain falling Thursday was expected to transition to freezing rain, sleet and snow across Southern Indiana and portions of north-central Kentucky. Hazardous snow and ice accumulations are likely, with the weather service predicting up to an inch of sleet followed by snowfall accumulations ranging from 4 to 8 inches across southern Indiana. The heaviest intensity of snow is expected to fall Friday afternoon, ending late in the day.

The National Weather Service is also predicting another winter weather system will push area late Saturday night and on Sunday. The precipitation is expected to start off as a light snow and then transition to freezing rain Sunday morning. A coating of ice is likely by late Sunday, according to the forecast.

As a result of the forecasted storm, state and local agencies are preparing to treat the roads and offering advice to motorists.

STATE RESPONSE

Harry Maginity, spokesman for the Indiana Department of Transportation’s Seymour district, said Thursday that motorists should take extreme caution during the inclement weather expected to hit the Louisville-metro area Friday.

“Use common sense and have a healthy fear of ice,” Maginity said. “Our biggest challenge is ice.”

He said the area will likely first be affected by freezing rain and sleet, which makes typical salt deposits ineffective.

“The rain will just wash the salt away,” Maginity said. “We will use a salt that will be wetted with a brine solution that will work faster against the ice.”

Maginity said when weather conditions result in icy roadways, its best for area resident to stay at home.

“Non-essential trips should be canceled or postponed,” he said. “Let us get out there and get the ice taken care of first.”

After INDOT officials first address ice on the roadways with the salt solution, they will deploy plows to remove the snow expected to follow.

He said defensive driving and 4x4-equipped vehicles are typically enough to keep people safe on snow-covered roads.

“Drive with caution. Give your self enough travel time and give other cars and our snow plows plenty of space to operate,” Maginity said.

According to a news release from INDOT, drivers can monitor road conditions and traffic alerts across the state by phone, web or social media. Visit TrafficWise.IN.gov or dial toll-free 800-261-ROAD [7623] for INDOT’s TrafficWise Traveler Information Service.

Indiana State Police Sgt. Jerry Goodin said troopers in the area will play the storm “by ear.”

He said the agency has a regular schedule planned for the next 48 hours, but added that if more personnel is needed on the roadways, additional troopers will be deployed.

LOCAL PREPARATIONS

Local agencies echoed many of the cautions issued by the state.

And like state plans, the rain falling throughout the day Thursday has hampered some of the regular preparations that would be made for winter weather.

Jeffersonville Street Commissioner Clark Miles said that because of the rain the city crews have been unable to brine the streets, but crews are prepared for once the ice and snow does start to fall.

“We’ve got everything ready,” Miles said. “Like everyone else waiting to see what happens.”

He said the city will sat in on a teleconference the National Weather Service held Thursday afternoon to help develop its plan to deal with the winter storm.

The city’s eight salt trucks and 700 tons of salt are on stand-by and ready to go if and when the weather hits.

Miles said Jeffersonville residents should be rest assured they’ll be out and trying to make the streets as safe as possible.

“We’ll be here all weekend if we have to,” he said.

New Albany Street Commissioner Mickey Thompson rounded up his crew to do a test run Thursday afternoon, as he said it’s the first winter storm of the season and he wanted to ensure the city is ready if ice and snow blanket roads and streets.

He anticipated that crews would start clearing roads and adding salt by 4 a.m. on Friday unless bad weather hits sooner.

“If we get the ice they’re calling for it will be better for people not to go out unless they absolutely have too,” Thompson said.

Crews will begin addressing overpasses and roads on hillsides, he continued.

The Clark County highway garage is also prepared for a long weekend, said Jim Ross, county operations manager.

“We’re brining the roads right now at this time for [Thursday night],” Ross said. “I have half my crew coming in at 4 o’clock in the morning to split them up, because tomorrow night we might get hit again. We’ll be up monitoring the roads all night. If we need to get out earlier, we will. We’ll deal with this storm first, and then we’ll worry about the next one.”

The county maintains an inventory of about 1,200 tons of road salt. Ross said it’s possible that the county could use up to a third of that this weekend, but can get more salt 24 hours after contacting its supplier.

The town of Sellersburg has already taken steps to ensure its citizens know what the town’s employees are doing about the upcoming storms, said Municipal Works Director Ken Alexander.

“We’ve already put out our normal Facebook alerts warning everybody of what could happen. It explains what we’re doing,” Alexander said. “We ask everybody if the ice comes in to stay home. It takes us approximately 3 1/2 hours to do a full round of treatment. And then of course, if it’s icing and snowing at the same time we’re around, by the time we get back around for the second pass, the roads are going to be in pretty much the shape they were in the first time.”

Sellersburg residents are encouraged to remove their vehicles from the roadways to give the snow trucks room to work.

“Our goal is to keep everyone safe,” the town’s message to its Facebook followers reads. “Don’t forget during very low temperatures, check on the elderly in your neighborhoods and bundle those kids up tight.”

The Clarksville Street Department spent Wednesday checking its trucks to make sure they’re ready to take on the elements, said Bradley Cummings, street department commissioner.

“Everything’s going good. We’re geared up. We’re ready,” Cummings said.

The town keeps an inventory of about 1,000 tons of salt. Cummings estimates it will use between 75 and 125 tons this weekend, but that could double if the roads get icy. As long as the snow remains minimal, the town won’t need to use much else.

“Up to one to two inches [of snow] should easily be able to be fought with simple salt and minimum to no snowplowing unless it increases above two inches,” Cummings explained.

Mike Perry, utilities director with the city of Charlestown said if the roads dry up enough Thursday crews are going to try and get brine on all of its roadways. Even if the brine is not applied to Charlestown’s roads, Perry said the city’s six salt trucks that are ready to go.

Perry, who was also on the conference call with the National Weather Service said forecasters are sure we’re going to get the storm, they’re just not positive at what time and what the temperature will be when it starts.

Perry did also say for Charlestown residents that if you don’t have to be out on the roads don’t be out. It makes it easier for crews to clear and navigate the streets.

The Floyd County Highway Department is “as ready as we can be” said Jeff Ramsey, superintendent. All 13 trucks are loaded and ready to go dump salt when needed. County trucks cover 13 different routes and Ramsey said his staff works two shifts during the winter — 3 p.m. to 3 a.m. and 3 a.m. to 3 p.m. The salt building is also full.

INDIVIDUAL PREPARATIONS

The local and state municipalities are not the only entities getting ready for the winter storm, and some people actually like the activity surrounding potential winter weather.

Tom Densford, co-owner of Heuser Hardware in Jeffersonville said the store has seen an uptick in customers with the forecast of winter storms.

“Everybody’s mainly coming in for rock salt and shovels, is our main one right now — rock salt, shovels, gloves, scrapers, it’s a pretty good mix of everything,” he said. “We’ve sold a lot of ice melter so far. We’ve sold other materials like gloves, windshield scrapers, things like that. It definitely creates a buzz. Really, it’s a lot of fun. It heightens everything, and there’s something to talk about. We kind of enjoy it.”

SCHOOL DISTRICTS

School districts in Clark and Floyd counties follow similar protocol when judging whether to close school, call a delay or stay open.

Bill Briscoe, assistant superintendent at the New Albany-Floyd County Consolidated School Corp., said a team of employees and the transportation department start driving some of the district’s roads at about 4 a.m. to see what the conditions are like.

He said though they’ll have to make up a day if they have to call it off, it’s better than the risk to students and employees.

“For us, safety’s our first priority,” Briscoe said. “If we don’t think it’s safe, regardless of what’s going on, we would cancel school or call a delay. There are certain times when we wish we didn’t have to, but sometimes we do.”

If at all possible, Briscoe said they make the call whether to cancel or delay for two hours by 5:30 a.m. That way, there’s enough time to get the word to media and text alerts for parents and students.

Monty Schneider, superintendent of West Clark Community Schools, said they follow a very similar procedure with several employees driving roads in various parts of the district, minding that conditions may be different from Underwood to Sellersburg.

“Our object is to have school if we can have it safely,” Schneider said. “That’s when the decision comes in whether we want a two hour delay and those kinds of things. A two hour delay gives us time if we need to make a decision if it still looks questionable.”

He said districts can’t call a two hour delay and release students two hours early without making up the whole day later in the school year. But he said they keep in touch with surrounding districts to see what they’re doing.

Greater Clark County Schools’ Supervisor of Communications, Erin Bojorquez, said an administrative team will drive the roads in their district around 3 a.m. or 4 a.m. and make a decision on whether to close or delay by 6 a.m.

Kim Knott, superintendent at Clarksville Community Schools, said it’s usually difficult to gauge the decision until the day the bad weather arrives. Even with keeping track of the reports, she doesn’t know what to expect.

“We’ve been looking at the weather all day, as probably the other schools in the area have been, too because no one can get a read on how fast or slow this thing’s going to come in,” Knott said. “We’ll be up here in the wee hours running the roads and we’ll all meet at the bus barn. We’ll continue to monitor the weather and make decisions.”

She said if the ice comes at night or in the morning, they should be OK to make a decision then. But if it comes during the school day while students are there, they’ll have to decide whether to send them on home.

She said parents need to make sure that in the case of bad weather, parents need to be sure that someone is home for their children if they need to be sent home from school early.

 

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Floyd Memorial Hospital and Health Services is pictured on Friday afternoon in New Albany. Floyd County is considering the idea of selling the hospital to help relieve some financial pressure.

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