Ice that coated area streets and highways had road crews actually looking forward to the snow that was to follow.
“We’re just hoping the snow comes in soon,” said Richard Macy, Columbus city street supervisor, at mid-morning Friday, as freezing rain continued to coat city streets where 19 salt trucks were working. “The snow is easier to take care of.”
But when that snow arrived around noon Friday, the Indiana State Police said Bartholomew County became the state’s top trouble spot for ongoing slideoffs and accidents as motorists were dealing with about a ½-inch of snow mixed with ice.
The one-two punch made maneuvering tricky along city and county roadways and portions of Interstate 65 throughout the day.
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More than 10 accidents or slide-offs occurred in the first half hour after the snow started, according to the Bartholomew County Emergency 911 Center, a rate that continued as the snow intensified at about 2 p.m. Friday.
A strong wind and cold temperatures were making things even more difficult for travelers, said Indiana State Police Sgt. Stephen Wheeles in his Twitter feed, advising anyone who didn’t need to be outside to stay home Friday.
Bartholomew County, including Columbus, issued a travel advisory early Friday morning telling motorists to travel only for work or emergencies, said Shannon Hinton, county emergency management director.
By mid-morning, about 12 accidents had been reported, many of them slide-offs on Interstate 65. That number increased to more than 50 accidents in Bartholomew County by mid-afternoon, when 911 Emergency Operations Director Todd Noblitt said nine of the accidents had resulted in personal injury.
All the victims treated at Columbus Regional Hospital were in stable condition or were released after receiving treatment for their injuries, said Kelsey DeClure, hospital spokeswoman.
Nick Lobdell, a driver for Columbus Towing, said requests for tow trucks were keeping the company extremely busy Friday. At 2:15 p.m., he had four calls pending for slideoffs and tows around Columbus and in rural areas of Bartholomew County. Two of Lobdell’s runs Friday involved I-65 accidents, he said.
“It’s pretty bad,” he said.
Hinton said the average travel speed in the icy conditions Friday morning on I-65 was 40 mph, which is 30 miles an hour below the posted maximum for cars traveling through Bartholomew County. After the snow started, I-65 traffic speeds were up to about 50 mph by mid-afternoon Friday.
Some of the heaviest snow was falling in southeast Indiana at about 4 p.m. along I-65, Wheeles reported on Twitter.
“Most of the travel lanes are covered in snow. Visibility is also reduced,” he tweeted.
Wheeles, the State Police spokesman for the agency’s Versailles post, advised people who were traveling to consider finding somewhere to stop and waiting the weather out.
Nearly 50 local or regional closings were reported for some or all of Friday, including schools, government offices and businesses — eight medical offices among them.
Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp. and Flat Rock-Hawcreek School Corp., along with private schools in Bartholomew County, called off classes for the day.
It was the first time BCSC officials had cancelled classes since the 2015-16 school year, when there were two closings. The year before, 2014-15, BCSC called off classes five times.
Ivy Tech Community College in Columbus called off classes Friday afternoon.
Bartholomew County government offices were closed all day Friday.
Columbus City Hall was open and the city was running bus service throughout the day, although Macy said some buses were running behind schedule because of city street conditions, particularly on some of the secondary streets.
The city decided to close Columbus City Hall and city services at 3 p.m., with city bus service continuing until 4 p.m. Friday. Bus service was expected to resume at 8 a.m. today, two hours later than normal.
Boys basketball home games scheduled for Friday night in Columbus were postponed. Mooresville at Columbus North and Bloomington South at Columbus East were postponed until Monday, with the JV games at 6 p.m. and varsity at 7:30 p.m. Elementary Basketball League games around Columbus this morning were also canceled.
FairOaks Mall in Columbus announced at 3 p.m. that all stores except Dunham’s Sports would be closing at 5 p.m. Friday, general manager Kim Showalter said. The mall on 25th Street planned to will reopen at 10 a.m. today.
Crews hit the road
City road crews were out at 6 a.m. Friday in their trucks, and were focusing on the main Columbus thoroughfares early in the day — Washington, Franklin, Central, Marr, Rocky Ford and Beam, Macy said. Trucks also were keeping access to 17th Street clear for Columbus Regional Hospital traffic and emergencies.
Crews planned to begin salting some of the secondary streets by mid-morning, but would continue to return to the main streets as needed because of continuing slick spots, Macy said.
The salt was turning the ice into a salty brine on the roadways and some of it was refreezing into slick spots, he said.
Bartholomew County Highway Department crews began applying a mixture of salt and sand to county roads Friday morning to remove ice, said Danny Hollander, county engineer.
A few crews started at 6 a.m., the rest at their normal start time of 7, he said.
“They’re slick,” Hollander said of the roads Friday morning.
Closing of county government offices and local schools was helpful in limiting traffic on the roads, Hollander said.
Road crews didn’t apply the salt/sand mixture Thursday night because overnight rain would have washed it away, Hollander said.
He said county crews would be driving county roads throughout Friday, applying salt and sand, then removing slush from the roads after the ice melted.
The Columbus Municipal Airport began reporting icy conditions on its runways at 9:15 a.m. Friday, alerting pilots that runways were not in a condition for landings or takeoffs. A corporate jet was de-iced and took of at 7:30 a.m. Friday, but that was the only departure or arrival Friday morning, said Brian Payne, airport director.
The airport’s runways were reported in better shape at about 12:10 p.m. Friday, when the icy conditions were resolved and planes were cleared to use the airport as necessary.
Payne, too, was hoping for the snow to arrive quickly, saying airport crews would have a much easier time cleaning up a few inches of snow off the runways than the continuous coating of ice Columbus was receiving early in the day.
Columbus and Bartholomew County were expecting up to 4 inches of snow by this morning, said Hinton, using the National Weather Service forecast for the area as her source. Some Indianapolis weather stations were predicting up to 6 inches, but Hinton said emergency management uses the federal weather service as its guide.
No power outages were reported through Friday afternoon by Duke Energy or Bartholomew County REMC as the icy conditions continued.
Visit therepublic.com for updates on business and event closings and other weather-related cancellations.