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Many Bartholomew County residents woke up Thursday to more snow than was expected — only to discover far more life-threatening winter conditions are still ahead.
“It has the potential to be deadly this weekend, and we need to prepare now,” warned Chief Deputy Maj. Todd Noblitt of the Bartholomew County Sheriff’s Department.
The major concern for local residents will be staying warm, according to Bartholomew County Emergency Preparedness Director Dennis Moats.
“If we get the wind chills they are projecting, it will be a frigid cold we’re not accustomed to having around here,” Moats said.
Subzero wind chills are expected through Saturday, followed by a second storm system Sunday that might bring additional snow and some of the coldest temperatures recorded in the past 20 years.
Bartholomew County School Corp. Superintendent John Quick said he and his staff are keeping a close eye on the threat of near-blizzard conditions for Sunday into Monday morning.
“The good news is that students aren’t due to return to school until Tuesday morning, which gives the school district a little leeway,” Quick said. “Right now, our biggest concern may be the threat of very cold temperatures Tuesday and even Wednesday. We’ll monitor the situation throughout the weekend, and hopefully, we’ll be able to have school next week.”
While predictions of Sunday’s anticipated snowfall range from 8 to 16 inches, Moats doesn’t believe the amounts should be the community’s top concern.
“Although I don’t think the media is hyping things, these preliminary predictions are several days out,” Moats said. “The forecast is subject to a lot of fine-tuning, especially on Saturday.”
Moats is most concerned about predictions of a low temperature of 10 below zero Sunday night, with a high of 5 below zero Monday.
“What’s going to create an issue is when drivers crash or slide off and can’t restart their engines — it’s not going to take any time whatsoever for the temperature to drop and hypothermia to set it,” Noblitt said.
If several countywide problems emerge at the same time, first responders will not be able to arrive as quickly as they would under normal circumstances, according to Ed Reuter, Bartholomew County Emergency Operations Center director.
“That’s why we will be asking residents not to travel unless absolutely necessary early next week,” said Reuter, who decided Thursday to postpone his own family trip to Iowa due to the weather. “If you must travel, communication is the key. Keep up with the latest weather conditions, let your family know when you leave, and make sure you bring along a phone charger.”
Those with essential medical appointments scheduled for Monday or Tuesday should consider trying to either move them up or postpone until later in the week, Reuter said.
“If you haven’t done it already, now is the time to put together an emergency kit for your car that should include kitty litter, a small shovel, extra blankets and maybe even water and a power bar,” Moats said.
If you are traveling, run your engine periodically and anticipate extra time each day to get into your vehicle, clear the windows and to get to your destination, Reuter said.
“Just anticipate that you will have a number of car issues,” Reuter said. “I predict those operating tow trucks or selling car batteries will do quite well Monday and Tuesday.”
While residents may struggle to keep warm in their own homes during frigid temperatures, Moats urged them not to compromise their own safety.
“Space heaters need to be both turned off and unplugged when they are not in use,” Moats said. “Above all, don’t use any combustible type of heater in your home due to the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning. Not even in your garage.”
The best way to stay warm at home is to wear several layers of clothing, Reuter said. He said residents also should consider keeping cabinet doors open to allow heat to reach plumbing fixtures and running a very tiny stream of water to prevent frozen water from expanding and damaging pipes.
Even though strong winds are expected with the subzero temperatures, the earlier snow — that began falling early Thursday — should be heavy enough to minimize drifting, Columbus City Garage Manager Bryan Burton said.
However, as heavy traffic melts the frozen precipitation, it will refreeze at night, creating patches of hazardous black ice, which are often undetectable for drivers.
“Even if it looks clear on city streets, you still need to slow it down,” Burton said.
When there is no sunshine and temperatures are well below freezing, compacted snow becomes extremely difficult to remove, Burton said.
On Thursday, there were 17 property-damage accidents and one mishap resulting in minor injuries investigated by the Sheriff’s Department.
While the city received 3.5 inches of snow before noon Thursday, according to the Columbus Wastewater Treatment Center, some unofficial measurements elsewhere were at 4 inches.
Interstate 65 and Indianapolis Road appeared to be the most hazardous on Thursday, Reuter said.
Out-of-state drivers who were caught unaware by Thursday’s snow caused the problems on I-65, while Indianapolis Road has few barriers to protect the pavement from drifting snow and icy conditions, Reuter said.
Although main streets and highways received the most attention Thursday, Burton and Bartholomew County Highway Garage Supervisor Dwight Smith say their crews will attempt to clear secondary routes as quickly as possible before conditions worsen this weekend.
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