An estimated 3 to 4 inches of snow, topped with a brief period of ice, made for another tough morning for commuters — and another day off for area students.
The season’s 18th instance of measurable snow Wednesday brought the city’s tally to 29.9 inches for this winter.
In 2012-13, the city received 20.6 inches of snow for the entire season, according to the National Weather Service. Between 1981 and 2011, Columbus’ yearly snowfall average was 14.5 inches.
“It’s just been a lot of snow,” said Randy Duckworth, city wastewater treatment plant superintendent. Workers there report snowfall and ice amounts to the National Weather Service.
Several law enforcement and emergency response administrators stressed the storm and its aftermath could have been much worse.
The number of accidents barely climbed into the low teens, according to the Bartholomew County Sheriff’s Department and the Columbus Police Department. In the past, up to 40 accidents happened after a single storm, said Maj. Todd Noblitt, chief deputy for the sheriff’s department.
A key reason is that drivers have had chances to sharpen their winter driving skills during the previous snowstorms, Columbus Police Department Lt. Matt Myers said.
What was most unusual about Tuesday’s storm was the amount of snow that fell in a short time, as well as the crust caused by sleet coating the snow, Columbus City Garage manager Bryan Burton said.
Both of those factors contributed to city workers helping out about 96 motorists who had gotten stuck late Tuesday and early Wednesday, Burton said.
Beginning work at 10 p.m. Tuesday, snowplow crews began moving snow off main road intersections into secondary street entrances. That resulted in some motorists finding their cars blocked in by snow along curbs and driveways.
As workers rushed to get main thoroughfares cleared by 7 a.m. Wednesday, some of the snow had to be transferred to secondary streets, Burton said.
“The snow has to have someplace to go,” he said, adding that crews clear secondary streets once they are confident main routes are clear for most drivers and first responders.
Police used four-wheel-drive vehicles to assist drivers who were unable to make it from their driveways onto the main streets, Myers said.
Nearby portions of Interstate 65 were closed twice due to weather-related incidents.
First, a section of I-65 was shut for about two hours near Edinburgh about 2 a.m. A semitrailer rig got stuck in the northbound lane, Indiana State Police Sgt. Richard Myers said.
A second crash near Whiteland after 10 a.m. involved three semitrailer trucks and four other vehicles traveling too fast for the icy, snowy road conditions, Myers said. That crash closed the southbound lanes of I-65 for about two hours, he said.
In the northern part of the state, I-65 southbound near Lafayette was closed briefly at midday because of numerous crashes. The I-65 northbound lanes were closed at the same time between State Road 2 and Crown Point because of a semi that overturned.
A brief period of sleet and ice didn’t result in any power outages here, but 2,500 Duke Energy customers in Indiana counties near Louisville, Ky., lost power overnight. At midday, the company had whittled that number to 1,556, with most of the outages in Floyd, Clark, Harrison and Crawford counties along the Ohio River.
City of Columbus nonessential offices operated Wednesday on a two-hour delay due to weather and road conditions. ColumBUS Transit service and sanitation service were on regular schedules Wednesday.
Bartholomew Consolidated and Flat Rock-Hawcreek schools canceled classes for Wednesday, as did many other districts across the region.
Because Bartholomew Consolidated already has used all its built-in makeup days, Wednesday’s snow day will be made up at the end of the year, on June 4. School will be in session on Good Friday as well as the full second week of spring break.
There are still two days between the end of the school year and commencement, but if school is canceled a few more times, the district may need to consider moving graduation or asking seniors to return after the event, BCSC Superintendent John Quick said.
Flat Rock-Hawcreek students will now be in school March 24 to 28 and April 18 to make up missed days, according to the school corporation.
Kevin Terrell, emergency department medical director at Columbus Regional Health, said he expects more injuries today.
Temperatures were expected to drop to the single digits overnight, turning precipitation left on the sidewalks and roads into ice.
“When it melts and refreezes is when we really start to see injuries from slips and falls and fender-benders,” he said. “People don’t see the ice because it appears to be clear, but then they step out and end up on the ground.”
A recurring bitter wind chill also has brought people into the emergency room.
“It’s generally elderly people who might fall and slip and be stuck outside or people who are intoxicated and wake up pretty cold,” Terrell said.