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Snowstorm in March unusual, but area didn’t get worst of it

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The same four-word assessment of the winter storm that hit south-central Indiana on Sunday and Monday was used by emergency workers and meteorologists alike: We dodged the bullet.

Most of the Columbus area received 3 to 4 inches of snow by 9 a.m. Monday, said Mike Ryan, National Weather Service meteorologist in Indianapolis. But as Monday morning commuters headed north, they found 4 to 8 inches throughout Johnson County, with even higher totals farther north.

The storm that left 7.2 inches of snow overnight in Indianapolis set a weather record for the date. Ryan said the city’s total snowfall from Sunday was the most that has fallen on any March 24 since 1912, when the state capital got 5.8 inches.

Several central Indiana counties, especially those located in the north-central areas of the state, declared snow emergencies as Winter Storm Virgil crossed the midsection of the state, dumping 8 inches or more in areas north of Interstate 70.

What’s ahead

Roughly 4 inches of snow that fell Sunday through Monday in Columbus isn’t expected to stick around for long.

Mike Ryan, National Weather Service meteorologist, predicts with gradual warming expected daily, most of the snow will likely melt by Wednesday. Ryan said the snow melt is expected to be gradual enough to prevent widespread flooding.

Ryan said two things happened that allowed Columbus to escape the brunt of Virgil’s wrath.

“Bartholomew County first received a mix of rain and ice pellets that lasted longer than we expected,” Ryan said. “That cut down on the amount of snow (in south-central Indiana). In addition, the storm itself tracked further north than our computer models originally predicted.”

The higher angle of the early spring sun and a warmer ground also were instrumental in safer-than-expected driving conditions Monday morning, Ryan said.

By midnight Sunday, Columbus had officially received 3.6 inches of snow, according to Kristina Pydynowski, meteorologist for AccuWeather. The Columbus snowfall did not break the record of 4 inches over a single-day in late March, Pydynowski said.

Historical weather records show that the latest Columbus normally receives more than an inch of snow is March 2, she said. The latest snowfall of any measurement on record for Bartholomew County is April 21.

No serious accidents

The less-than-expected accumulation was a relief to local law enforcement officials, who were prepared for the worst.

“The roads were actually pretty darn good, considering the wet snow we received,” Columbus Police spokesman Lt. Matt Myers said at midmorning Monday. “We had a couple of slide-offs, but nobody was hurt. Actually, we had fewer accidents (Monday) morning than we do when there isn’t any snow.”

The Bartholomew County Sheriff’s Department had all of its four-wheel-drive vehicles on standby Sunday and was prepared to put all deputies on 12-hour shifts.

But Deputy Sheriff Maj. Todd Noblitt said it turned out that those steps weren’t necessary.

While the Sheriff’s Department investigated nine crashes or slide-offs between 6 p.m. and 7 p.m. Sunday evening, deputies were called out to only one accident Monday morning before 10 a.m. None of the mishaps resulted in serious injuries, Noblitt said.

City streets quickly cleared

In Columbus, two dozen snowplow operators watched the weather deteriorate from their homes Sunday afternoon.

“It’s always hard to predict what’s going to happen during a spring snowstorm,” said Richard Macy, City Garage street foreman.

Nevertheless, Macy’s strategy was to call in the operators at 4:30 p.m. Sunday and equip their trucks with a mixture of rock salt and water.

Macy said the crews began applying the brine mixture to the main streets of Columbus at 5:45 p.m. — just as the snow began sticking to the ground.

When the brine is applied just before roads become covered with wintry precipitation, it prevents ice from bonding to the surface. Compared to pure salt, the mixture is both cheaper and easier on the environment, Macy said.

This particular treatment was also effective under Sunday’s temperatures and conditions, Macy said.

His strategy worked well enough to allow the plows to start clearing secondary streets in Columbus by 9 a.m. Monday, well ahead of schedule for a normal snowstorm, Macy said.

While the term “dodging the bullet” was frequently used Monday, a Southside Elementary student sledding at Mill Race Park provided an entirely different assessment.

“It’s spring winter break,” proclaimed T.J. Massey, 13. “It’s awesome!”

T.J. was one of 10 members of a Foundation for Youth group who were provided with extra layers of clothing before being taken out for a spontaneous 45-minute sledding excursion at the hill in back of the park’s amphitheater.

“I hadn’t been sledding all year, so this was really fun,” said a shivering Angie Kramer, 14, a student at Columbus North. She also said she was looking forward to more sledding during another FFY camp this week.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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