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Winds make a show of force


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GREENFIELD — Hundreds of Greenfield residents were without power Friday afternoon, the result of high winds after the first snowfall of the season that had many students and teachers start their holiday break early.

Two inches of snow fell Thursday night and early Friday morning – the first official day of winter. Wind gusts reached 48 mph but died down throughout the day Friday.

Local road crews struggled to keep up. As they plowed, wind would push the snow back onto the roads, especially north-south streets. Greenfield-Central and Southern Hancock schools were closed, while the other districts in the county were on a two-hour delay.

Shortly after noon Friday, 682 homes on the city’s far west side lost power for an 1½ hours. Greenfield Power & Light struggled locating the problem, but eventually found that wind had likely blown a wire. Superintendent Nelson Castrodale said the arrester, a knob used to protect the equipment, had blown previously, perhaps from a lightning strike.

Once the problem was found, power was restored within minutes to neighborhoods such as Sawmill, Winfield Park and Liberty Shores.

Meanwhile, Greenfield-Central and Southern Hancock schools were closed Friday on what was supposed to be the final day of the semester. Students will have to come back after their two-week break to finish up final exams.

“Instruction is always a primary focus, but school safety trumps everything we do,” said G-C Superintendent Linda Gellert. “But if we can get them here with reasonable caution and safety, we certainly would keep schools open.”

Gellert said the wind and drifting factored into the decision to close school early in the morning. Besides, she added, young drivers are inexperienced on winter roads.

SH Superintendent Jim Halik thought the same.

“The roughest day for snow, especially for teenagers on the roads, is that first storm,” said Halik, who woke up at 4 a.m. Friday to check on the weather.

Halik said students have been taking final exams all week, and many only had one test to go. The semester will end when students return Jan. 7 to complete their finals.

But Eastern Hancock and Mt. Vernon schools were only delayed two hours. EH Superintendent Randy Harris said he called the delay after checking on the condition of the roads and concluding they weren’t too bad.

If conditions hadn’t improved, he said school would have closed. But elementary students came in with festive attire ready for their holiday parties, and the upper levels finished up their first semester.

“I think they’re glad to be in school today and get ready for the holidays,” Harris said.

Greenfield street crews hit the roads at 2:30 a.m. Friday.

“There wasn’t a whole lot of snow. The only challenge was the wind, and it’s still a challenge,” said Superintendent Jim Hahn.

Crews had to take quick breaks to enjoy a holiday pot-luck while still plowing throughout the afternoon Friday.

“Boy, it’s really coming across our open areas and north-south roads,” Hahn said. “I have my guys go curb-to-curb. We cleaned everything. I was very happy with the results, but there’s nothing I can do about the drifting.”

County and state crews ran into similar problems.

“They’re doing a fine job; it’s just they hit it, and it comes back,” said Joe Copeland, superintendent of the Hancock County Highway Department.

The department was also putting down salt only on curves, hills and intersections. Copeland said the department doesn’t have the budget for the material on every mile; they’ve got to conserve salt for the rest of the winter.

State road crews also worked overnight, though Indiana Department of Transportation spokesman Harry Maginity points out they couldn’t pre-treat the roads with salt to brace for slick spots because rain preceded the snow.

“We were prepared for it, and I think we gave it what we had,” Maginity said.

Even with slick spots, there were only a few minor accidents on local roads. Greenfield Police Chief John Jester said there were two or three slide-offs and two property damage crashes, but nobody was injured.

First-shift Sheriff’s Lt. Donnie Munden said morning commuters appeared to exercise caution on slick and snowy roads during rush hour Friday.

The department responded to only a few slide-offs and two accidents with minor injuries. For the first snowfall of the year, that’s unusual, Munden said.

“This one has been pretty mild,” he said. “Rush hour went well, so I’ve got to commend our drivers.”

Whether Hancock County will see a white Christmas is still up in the air. Crystal Pettet, meteorologist for the National Weather Service, said temperatures will rise to the 40s this weekend, which will likely melt the snow on the ground now.

The next slight chance for snow is Monday night, and there’s a chance for accumulating snow Christmas night and the following day.

 

Staff writer Noelle M. Steele contributed to this report.

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