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Holiday kept many off slick roads

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GREENFIELD — While Wednesday’s burst of winter weather reached blizzard conditions, public safety officials still found a reason to be thankful.

The timing of the storm, they said, was perfect.

Many would-be motorists were off work for the holidays, and children are still out of school for winter break.

That made for lighter work for local officials, including law enforcement officers who are typically swamped with 911 calls from drivers sliding on snow-slick streets.

“That was our saving grace, I think, today,” said Connie Hoy, director of the Hancock County Emergency Operations Center. “If it’s ice, then it’s just crazy. Ice is what usually keeps us really busy. But … you can see the snow. You know how fast you should go. It’s been relatively quiet.”

As of Wednesday afternoon, no serious accidents or injuries had been reported and there were also no significant power outages.

The majority of the 911 calls were for minor slide-offs, Hoy said. Dispatchers sent officers to check on 13 vehicles that wound up in ditches. There were five minor accidents with no injuries reported as of early Wednesday afternoon, and one accident on Interstate 70 that sent a man to the hospital complaining of shoulder pain.

Winds at Indianapolis Regional Airport in Mt. Comfort reached a peak of 39 mph at 6 a.m., said John Kwiatkowski, meteorologist with the National Weather Service.

The winds and low visibility characterized Wednesday’s storm as a blizzard, though conditions were nowhere near as severe as the blizzard of 1978.

“(It was) a low-end blizzard – but a blizzard,” Kwiatkowski said, because visibility was as low as one-eighth of a mile in Indianapolis and neighboring counties.

Greenfield had 5 to 7 inches of snow by about 2 p.m. Wednesday, but drifting caused snow to pile up to 8 to 12 inches in some areas.

Joe Copeland, Hancock County Highway superintendent, said as much as a foot of snow had drifted on rural roads in some areas, making for treacherous travel conditions.

Kwiatkowski said the heaviest snowfall was between 7 a.m. and 11 a.m., and by early afternoon the storm was slowing. Winds were expected to continue through Wednesday evening, and local road crews said they would work through today to make sure roads are clear.

County offices closed at 11:30 a.m. Wednesday. Hancock County Commissioners Tom Stevens said the closure was a safety measure made as public safety officials weighed which travel advisory to issue.

In 2010, commissioners passed an amendment to the county snow ordinance that changed all weather alerts to the color-coded travel advisory system used by the Indiana Department of Homeland Security.

Wednesday, Hancock County rose to the orange or next-to-highest level.

The alerts start at white for the least amount of danger and progress to yellow, then orange, then red.

Only essential travel is recommended for a county whose level is at orange, as Hancock County’s was Wednesday.

Commissioner Derek Towle said the board depends on first-hand accounts from county highway officials who have been out on the roads to determine the county’s travel advisory level, and the advisory applies only to county roads.

“They can advise us as to what the dangers or hazards are,” Towle said.

No major power outages were reported as of early afternoon throughout Hancock County.

Nelson Castrodale, superintendent of Greenfield Power and Light, said a small crew of four was on standby at the city office. Otherwise, city employees had the day off Wednesday as a holiday.

Local hotels were busy Tuesday and Wednesday as holiday travelers pulled in to wait out the storm.

Cynthia Dulaney, clerk at Greenfield Quality Inn, said Wednesday afternoon there were 36 rooms booked and multiple phone calls by the hour.

At the Comfort Inn in Greenfield, clerk McKenna McDonald said some people left early Wednesday morning to try to beat the storm.

Others extended their stays through Wednesday night because of the blizzard, and still others were making reservations throughout the afternoon.

“They want to get off the roads; they want to see if we have rooms at what rates; (and) if it’s pet friendly because some of them are traveling with their pets,” McDonald said. “(They want to see) how soon or how quickly we are off the interstate. As soon as they can get off the roads, they want to stop.”

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