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Ice, sleet, snow rolling this way

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Think carefully about how much time is needed and what route to take before leaving the house this morning.

Freezing rain and sleet were expected to fall for several hours last night, before snow covered the ground. Johnson County is now under a winter weather warning, which will remain active until tonight, and seven to nine inches of snow is expected to fall by the end of the day, National Weather Service meteorologist Dave Tucek said.

The county and city street and highway departments have been working since last night, laying down salt to bring up the temperature of the roads and clearing away ice and snow. But trucks were unable to start putting down salt until after the rain — which came before the wintry weather — had passed. If workers had started putting down salt too early, it would have been washed off the roads, county highway director Luke Mastin and Greenwood deputy mayor Terry McLaughlin said.

Officials are telling motorists to expect slippery driving conditions, even though the county highway department will have crews working in continuous, 12-hour shifts through tonight and possibly into Saturday, Mastin said.

School administrators have been working since about 3 a.m. to see whether the roads traveled by school buses, parents and students are safe enough for school to remain in session, Greenwood assistant superintendent of learning Rick Ahlgrim and Clark-Pleasant curriculum instruction specialist Cameron Rains said.

But given the amount of snow expected to fall, people who don’t have a reason or need to travel shouldn’t, Tucek and officials from the Indiana Department of Transportation said.

Any vehicles abandoned on the interstates will be towed to keep them from becoming a hazard to other drivers, an Indiana State Police news release said.

Ideally, Mastin said, he would have had his drivers coating the county’s roads and streets with salt days ago.

“We’re just wasting material at that point,” he said.

The rain also presented another problem, since wet streets began to freeze as the temperature dropped throughout the day. Mastin’s hope Thursday was that the highway department would have a block of time in the evening between when the rain ended and the sleet and freezing rain began to put down salt to raise the temperature of the roads, he said.

The winter storm was expected to change from sleet, ice and freezing rain into snow overnight, and school administrators planned to be out early this morning, assessing how dangerous the roads had become.

Some of the main factors in their decision on whether to cancel or delay classes: If salt put down after the winter storm began appeared to work on the roads, and if the worst of the storm appeared to have passed. Rains and Ahlgrim said that if school were canceled they would start automated calls to families early this morning.

Once the storm has passed, the county highway department will continue to monitor the rural roads. Wind, even low wind, can blow enough snow across those roads to obstruct or close them, Mastin said.

He also is watching the forecast, because more wintry weather is expected to arrive on Sunday.

That storm isn’t expected to be as intense, and, while there will be some sleet, there shouldn’t be any freezing rain and little snow will accumulate, Tucek said.

Still, Mastin wants his drivers to be prepared if the area receives more wintry weather than expected.

“We’re hoping that, if we can keep up with this storm as it comes, we might get a small break on Saturday, between finishing the cleanup for this and preparing for whatever is coming on Sunday,” he said.

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