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Area copes with winter weather

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A pedestrian crosses Jackson Street, Monday, March 3, 2014, after another round of winter storms passed through the area over the weekend.
A pedestrian crosses Jackson Street, Monday, March 3, 2014, after another round of winter storms passed through the area over the weekend.

Attorney Lora Mount shovels snow outside Voelz Law office on Washington Street, Monday, March 3, 2014, after another round of winter storms passed through the area over the weekend.
Attorney Lora Mount shovels snow outside Voelz Law office on Washington Street, Monday, March 3, 2014, after another round of winter storms passed through the area over the weekend.

Bartholomew County’s 2013-14 winter snowfall total is nearly twice what it was last year.

If that’s not enough misery for you, this year’s total is nearly triple the county’s average seasonal amount, according to the National Weather Service.

As of Monday, the county had received 39.9 inches of snow since Dec. 1, compared with 20.6 in 2012-13. The average seasonal snowfall total is 14.5 inches for the county.

The snowiest winters in Columbus so far, according to climate statistics from National Weather Service, are 43 inches in 1995-96, 40 inches in 1909-10 and 36 inches in 2002-03.

So we need at least 3.2 inches of snow yet this season to make it the worst of all time.

Snowfall is just one of the measurements that The Republic used to create a Winter Weariness Index.

Mike Ryan, a meteorologist at

the National Weather Service in Indianapolis, said the difficult winter in Bartholomew County is following the trend of Indianapolis, which has more than doubled its snowfall from last year and is close to a record for the snowiest winter ever. Indianapolis went from 25 inches last winter to 54.7 inches this season. The Indianapolis record is 58.2 inches of snow in 1981-82.

Technically, the meteorological winter is December, January and February, with an end set at March 1, according to Ryan. However, the weather service keeps another metric known as the “snow year” to keep track of inch totals to determine “record-breaking” snow totals. That means meteorologists are tracking March snow as part of this winter’s totals.

Like in a close basketball game, we’re officially in winter overtime.

Among other things, the seemingly never-ending snow certainly has made travel difficult.

Bartholomew County has been under 38 travel advisories since December — with snow, ice, rain, a tornado watch and high winds all in the equation, according to Dennis Moats, Bartholomew County Emergency Management director.

The county has been under “watch status” 14 times so far this winter, which means emergency management asks that residents limit themselves to essential travel such as to and from work or for emergencies. Most recently, Sunday and Monday were listed as “watch status” travel days for the county.

Even the meteorologists are ready for the snowy weather to end, according to Ryan.

“We’re all tired of this,” he said. “I think I speak for all of us that we’re ready for some warmer weather.”

How it all adds up

Since Dec. 1, employees at the Columbus Wastewater Treatment Plant have reported measurable snow to the National Weather Service 34 times.

Mark Joslin is one of the day-shift operators who uses a National Weather Service snow stick to measure snowfall. Wastewater treatment plant employees measure at 7 a.m. every day and report in to the weather service.

Joslin said workers who do the measuring have seen firsthand that snow has been coming a little at a time, on a lot of different days.

“After our last couple of winters, this one’s been pretty rough,” he said. “It’s been a long one.”

If there’s one statistic that isn’t record-breaking this year, it’s the way Columbus has accumulated its snow.

There have been only five snowfalls of 3 inches or more, according to totals reported to the National Weather Service. The rest have been 1 or 2 inches at a time or less. It’s just these smaller snowfalls were happening a lot. Bartholomew County had measurable snow on

10 days in January and 11 days

in February.

And we started out March with a 3-inch total this past weekend, according to the weather service.

Plowing ahead

When Columbus and Bartholomew County road crews prepare for snow, they list it as a snow event. And since Dec. 1, we’ve had 20 of those.

When single- and multiday snow events are combined, and the number of times road crews had to return to re-clear roads, city and county crews provided 41 days of shoveling, sanding and salting this winter.

That compares with nine days of shoveling, sanding and salting last winter, according to Bartholomew County Highway Superintendent Dwight Smith and Columbus City Garage Manager Bryan Burton.

Misery loves weekends

If it seems like your weekend activities have been interrupted by snow a lot this winter, you’re right. For some reason, it’s been snowing a lot on Saturday or Sunday. Nearly half of the weekend days since Dec. 1 have had some measurable snowfall.

Statistics show the number of weekend days with measurable snowfall in Bartholomew County at 12 out of 26 weekend days since Dec. 1.

Indiana’s “very active weather pattern” may be the reason for so many snowy weekends, according to meteorologist Ryan.

“I can’t recall a more active four to five months,” he said. “Every couple of days, we’re getting a snowstorm.”

Blame the polar vortex.

The jet stream has repeatedly dipped south, leaving southern Indiana vulnerable to extremely cold arctic air — and when the precipitation arrives with cold temperatures, it’s ice and snow.

What’s ahead for this weekend? A possibility of more snow. That record may still be within reach.

Long chapter on snow days

Local school districts have had more cancellations this year than in any other winter in memory, superintendents agree. The totals:

14 for Jennings County School Corp.

Nine for Flat Rock-Hawcreek School Corp.

Eight for Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp.

Bartholomew Consolidated and Flat Rock-Hawcreek built several makeup days into the schedule — enough so the school year will finish June 5, just in time for the June 6 and 7 commencement ceremonies, unless more scheduled classroom days are lost to snow.

But Jennings County Schools scheduled only three makeup days and was granted a waiver from the state for one. That leaves 10 days to make up, which the school board voted to do by adding

45 minutes to the end of every school day through the first week of May.

Jennings County High School softball coach Kendall Wildey said everyone is on board with the plan, but it has created some inconveniences for his team.

Most games are scheduled to begin between 5 and 5:30 p.m., but with the school day now extending until 4:15 p.m. players do not have enough time to get changed, grab something to eat and board the bus.

Games will be pushed back, and varsity and junior varsity teams may have to play at the same time.

“We’re just going to have to be creative,” he said.

Local officials say some school is better than no school, however.

BCSC has delayed school nine times this year, Flat Rock-Hawcreek has started late six times, and JCSC has called 10 two-hour delays.

That’s between 12 and 20 hours of instruction the schools will not need to make up, but Wildey, who is also the administrator of Columbus Christian School, said that’s hurt ISTEP+ preparation.

He said the school has an alternative schedule in place so students attend all classes for shorter periods, but it’s difficult to teach all the material with shortened class time.

“By the time students get settled in at 10:15, that’s almost time to turn around for lunch,” he said.

Fewer family library outings

During any normal winter, a snow day for students might mean a visit to the library — but not this year.

“With temperatures so bitter, I don’t think we see the uptick we often do see when school is closed,” said Jason Hatton, assistant director at Bartholomew County Public Library.

The library has been closed four days so far this year — Jan. 6 to 7, Feb. 5 and Sunday — and it closed early on Dec. 6 and Feb. 4.

Even on the days the library was open and programming went on as scheduled, Hatton said participation and computer use were down.

“People just don’t want to or can’t get out,” he said.

Families will continue to see the impact of the winter on the library for weeks to come as construction on the entrance has been delayed due to cold temperatures. Hatton said there is still six to eight weeks of work to be done after temperatures rise above freezing.

Cloudy with a chance of ... cold

If you’ve been craving sunshine, there’s a reason. More than half the days between Dec. 1 and today have been cloudy, with a side order of freezing temperatures.

There were 52 overcast days through March 3, about 55 percent of the winter days so far. Conditions started out sunny on 20 days but ended up with clouds.

The longest cold spell of the season lasted for 10 days, when temperatures did not climb above freezing from Feb. 2 to Feb. 12. The average high temperature during that period was 26.8 degrees.

Bartholomew County’s first cold snap arrived Dec. 7, and for the next six days, high temperatures stayed at or below freezing. The coldest temperature of the month was minus 8 degrees on the morning of Dec. 12.

Near-normal temperatures prevailed for most of the rest of the month, with a warm spell once again bringing temperatures in the 50s and 60s from Dec. 19 through 22.

January was the coldest month of the winter, with an average high of 31.1 degrees — about six degrees colder than the average of 37. However, due to several windy days, the temperature felt much colder at times.

The average low temperature in January, which was 15.6 degrees, was also about six degrees colder than normal.

The first cold snap of the new year arrived Jan. 2, with highs mostly in the teens for the next few days. The coldest temperature of the winter was minus 18 on Jan. 3.

After a few days of normal temperatures, the thermometer climbed to only 2 degrees Jan. 6 and only to 13 degrees on Jan. 7. Lows during that period were about minus 4 degrees.

January included four consecutive days of below-freezing high temperatures from Jan 15 to 18, a three-day period of highs only in the teens from Jan. 22 to 24 and a similar cold snap Jan. 27 to 29.

For February, the average high was 31.9 degrees — about 10 degrees colder than average. However, when the Feb. 18 through 22 warm spell is taken out of the equation, the average daily high in February was only 28.4 degrees.

How’s business?

Jeff Baker, owner of Baker’s Fine Gifts downtown, said he’s sure this has been the worst winter he can remember; but surprisingly, sales are up.

“Now I wonder what we could have done without all the snow,” he said.

Business was slow after snowfalls early in the season, but he said Monday’s storm did not stop customers.

“We’ve kind of come to the point where if this were the first snowfall people would be hunkering in, but they’re sick of it now,” he said.

Mike Dell of Dell Brothers noticed the same trends. He said sales were slow in January, but business picked back up in February.

“It does affect business when it gets really nasty out, but it’s hard to predict,” he said.

The store did more business Monday morning in one transaction than all of Saturday combined. He guessed families spent Saturday buying the necessities such as ice melt and groceries before the snow hit but returned to regular shopping habits on Monday.

Managers at Menards and Rural King said they have had a hard time keeping ice melt on shelves.

Contributing to this story were Republic reporters Michelle Sokol and Mark Webber and assistant managing editor Julie McClure.

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