HANCOCK COUNTY — City and county government offices were expected to re-open for business today, but the Hancock County area is still in for at least one more day of frigid temperatures and treacherous travel.
A winter weather advisory was to remain in effect for Hancock County until 10 a.m., according to the National Weather Service, which predicts today’s high will be around 6 degrees.
While that’s an improvement over Monday’s subzero temperatures, residents are still being encouraged to stay indoors. The low this morning was expected to be 10 degrees below zero, and persistent winds will continue to make it feel as if it’s 20 below to 30 below at least until midday today.
Public safety officials worked Sunday night and Monday to assure major thoroughfares were passable and county residents were safe. Many streets, roads and highways were snow-packed and slick, but they at least were passable.
For a while late Sunday and Monday, driving wasn’t recommended except for emergencies. The county was placed at the red travel advisory level, the state’s most serious classification for severe weather, for about 15 hours as crews struggled to keep up with the snowfall and drifts. The travel advisory later was upgraded to orange, which means travel is allowed but only if it’s considered essential, such as driving to work.
Many people took the advisories seriously. Most businesses and many stores and restaurants were closed Monday. Many of the vehicles on the roads had snowplows attached. Mountains of plowed snow lined the edges of parking lots like ranges of jagged peaks, hardened by 12 hours of an arctic blast that dropped wind-chill readings to close to 40 below zero.
Larry Ervin, the county’s emergency management director, said late Monday afternoon that although the county’s travel advisory status had been upgraded, motorists should still use caution and common sense.
“There are still some roads here and there that are not passable, and many are still ice- and snow-covered and have drifting issues,” Ervin said in an email to the Daily Reporter. “There are always those (drivers) who think … they are invincible and nothing bad will happen to them. Those are the same people we have to pull out of a snow bank and tie up limited resources to help.”
Drifting snow has been a significant issue throughout the storm, even in areas where plows had successfully cleared streets after the majority of the snow fell early Monday, said National Weather Service meteorologist Dan McCarthy.
“That blowing snow is going to be the main problem,” McCarthy said. “It’s really going to affect all roads.”
Minor power outages were reported throughout the storm Sunday night and Monday morning, but by early afternoon Monday, electricity had been restored to customers throughout Hancock County. That was in contrast to other areas throughout central Indiana. Indiana’s major electricity providers reported more than 37,000 power outages around the state after Sunday’s snowstorm, according to The Associated Press. Indianapolis had the most outages, and power remained out for about 30,000 homes and businesses as of Monday evening.
Nelson Castrodale, superintendent of Greenfield Power & Light, said roughly 800 customers in north central Greenfield lost power for about 90 minutes late Sunday night. The city department received plenty of phone calls, Castrodale added; people were concerned about what the loss of electricity would mean with the rapid drop in temperature. After a high temperature well above freezing earlier Sunday, the temperature dropped to near zero by midnight as an arctic front punched through central Indiana.
“Of all the times we’ve been out, it was probably one of the worst nights we’ve ever had,” Castrodale said. “I just felt scared for my guys out there. It was so cold, and the wind was blowing.”
Roughly 700 NineStar Connect customers in northern Hancock County were without power Sunday night, said spokesman David Spencer, but power was restored by early Monday morning. An additional 1,100 customers in Vernon Township had intermittent power outages Monday morning, but that problem was fixed by Monday afternoon.
Spencer said crews were wearing plenty of layers of clothing and keeping the mood light.
“They’re a different breed, there’s no doubt about that; being out in conditions like that with something that could kill you,” he said. “But they’re doing well; they’re in good spirits.”
Duke Energy reported 20 or fewer Hancock County customers without power throughout the day Monday. While they hoped the worst was over, Spencer and Castrodale said there could be more power outages should conditions worsen.
“I wouldn’t say we’re concerned, but we’re ready for whatever Mother Nature throws at us,” he said. “With the wind and freezing temperatures, anything can happen.”
Residents did well keeping out of emergency crews’ way as the storm descended, which also made for easier work for local law enforcement, Sheriff Mike Shepherd said.
Police worked not only to respond to emergency calls but occasionally to provide transportation for health-care workers and their patients, Shepherd said.
Officer safety is also a primary concern during severe weather, Greenfield Police Chief John Jester said.
Jester said additional officers were on duty Sunday to respond to calls as the storm worsened, but as conditions improved throughout the day Monday, those officers were sent home.
Shepherd said having the county’s travel advisory status upgraded likely meant more people were venturing out, but it was the right call.
“It could make situations more difficult for my officers, but we recognize that people have to get their lives back to as normal as possible,” he said in an email to the Daily Reporter.
After another day of bitter cold temperatures today, the temperatures will climb closer to the freezing mark on Wednesday, which has a predicted high of 26 degrees.
There is a slight chance of additional snowfall Wednesday night into Thursday morning, but the snowfall is expected to be light if it does occur.
Meanwhile, local law enforcement agencies are asking residents to keep indoors as long as possible until the weather warms.
“If you don’t have to get out, don’t,” Jester said in an email to the Daily Reporter. “If you do, give yourself extra time. Make sure your cell phone is charged in case you have a breakdown. Call us. We will help any way we can.”
Mayor Chuck Fewell, who has been in office less than a week, made the decision late Sunday to close city offices Monday. City hall will be reopened today, but Fewell said if employees feel they can’t make it to work safely today, they can stay home.
Fewell was pleased with how the city’s street, utility and public safety departments worked together Monday.
“Do I wish this snowstorm was somewhere else? Absolutely,” Fewell said. “But everybody worked together including the city, county, Emergency Operations Center. Everything came off OK. Right now, we have nobody in Greenfield without power. I give it to Greenfield Power & Light who worked their rear ends off (Sunday) night.”
The storm began with heavy, wet snow that quickly built to a depth of an inch an hour. By the time the band of heavy snow passed through, nearly a foot had fallen in Hancock County.
“This is heart attack weather,” said Sugar Creek Township Trustee Bob Boyer, who was relieved that people were playing it safe and staying indoors. “People should not get out and try and move this snow. The ultimate cold and the weight of the snow – it is an invitation for a heart attack.”