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County braces for snow, wind

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GREENFIELD — Hancock County is under a blizzard warning today, and local officials are bracing for high winds with several inches of snow that could cause hazardous conditions.

Several local street department workers set out on the roads Christmas Day to lay down salt in preparation of the storm system coming in from the southwest. The National Weather Service calls for 8 to 12 inches of snow through this evening.

“This is going to be the type of storm we might see once every five years in central Indiana,” said meteorologist John Kwiatkowski. “It’s going to be particularly important that people make sure they’re safe and it’s best to stay at home.”

Kwiatkowski said much of the snow will come after 7 a.m. today, and winds will be up to 40 miles per hour.

The winds make Larry Ervin particularly worried. Ervin, director of Hancock County Emergency Management, said heavy snow plus blowing winds will not only affect visibility but also tree limbs.

“This is going to be one of those heavy, kind of wet snows,” he said. “If we didn’t have winds, it wouldn’t blow or drift. But with 40 mph winds it will blow this kind of snow. I’m concerned with tree branches and power lines coming down.”

Still, Ervin said as of Tuesday afternoon the impact of the storm remained uncertain. The area could only see 4 to 6 inches, he said. The low pressure system is coming from the southwest, with snow totals for the Indianapolis area questionable. Still, the National Weather Service says the winds could make for white-out conditions.

“We haven’t had a good blizzard around here in a long time, and I think people forget what that means,” Ervin said, adding that worst-case conditions could be life-threatening to people who venture outdoors. “The best thing to do, if at all possible, is stay at home. Stay off the roadways. Take this serious, be prepared.”

Road crews were bracing for the storm Tuesday. A press release from the Indiana Department of Transportation said crews were beginning to treat bridges and roadways with salt brine on state-owned highways. Motorists were also reminded to drive slowly, accelerate gradually, brake early and allow for a greater distance between cars.

Ervin said winds may blow snow especially on east-west roads, like U.S. 40 and Interstate 70.

The Hancock County Highway superintendent could not be reached for comment Tuesday, but Ervin said he will be in contact with county officials on the emergency conditions.

County officials could also issue a travel warning. The red level warning, the highest, restricts travel to emergency personnel only. An orange watch level suggests travel be restricted only to work or for emergencies, while a yellow advisory level suggests people use caution while driving.

Residents should check local media outlets for travel advisory updates, or go to dhs.in.gov and click on the travel advisory map link.

Jim Hahn, Greenfield street superintendent, said he called in a few employees on Christmas Day to begin salting the roads for what could be one of the worst storms he’s seen in several years.

“We prepare for the worst and hope for the best, and this is just one of those things where we’ll have to take our time,” Hahn said. “We’ll split people up and come in at eight-hour shifts and slowly attack it. We’ll stay on it around the clock; we won’t go home.”

The city’s street department can have 12 trucks on the roads at a time, but Hahn acknowledged it will be hard to keep up with the amount of snow and the winds that will blow it across roadways.

“Now’s the time where we want to get everybody home for tonight and stay home,” Hahn said Tuesday afternoon. “Forget about the milk and eggs, stay off the roads and let us do our jobs.”

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