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Officials urge caution, preparedness during latest frigid weather

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Don’t be fooled by the lack of snow the past few days — roads still have plenty of slick spots that can send drivers off the side and into ditches.

And the roads will be especially dangerous today as another round of subzero temperatures rolls through.

Temperatures today aren’t expected to climb above the single digits and will fall to zero tonight. Wind chills will be even harsher, about minus 25 today and between 10 and 15 below zero tonight, National Weather Service meteorologist Marc Dahmer said.

That’s why drivers need to keep blankets, layers of clothes and a cellphone charger in their cars, Johnson County Sheriff Doug Cox and White River Township Fire Department Chief Jeremy Pell advised.

They also recommended, if possible, that people stay home until the cold front leaves the area on Wednesday.

From Friday morning through Sunday morning the Johnson County Sheriff’s Office helped 33 drivers who slid off the road and received calls about 28 vehicle accidents, including three in which people were injured, Cox said. That’s surprising considering how little snow fell over the weekend, he said.

But when high winds start blowing, snow that’s been on the ground for days can limit visibility and cause drivers to lose control. Winds of 5 to 8 mph are expected today, and drivers need to be prepared to keep warm and contact emergency crews if they get stuck today, Cox said.

“Mother Nature keeps dishing it out, and we keep taking it. Unfortunately we’ve got to go with the flow,” Cox said.

Franklin and Greenwood city officials will be watching today to see if the bitter cold and winds snap electrical lines and cause any residents to lose power. If that happens, both cities are prepared to open up city-owned buildings, including recreation centers, and to partner with schools so anyone who loses power for longer than an hour has a place to go to stay warm, Franklin Mayor Joe McGuinness and Greenwood deputy mayor Terry McLaughlin said.

About 1,100 Franklin residents lost power for about an hour-and-a-half on Friday, and when that happened, the city opened up a warming center at the city’s recreation center until service was restored, McGuinness said.

City governments and area hospitals expect to be open during normal hours today, but trash won’t be picked up in Franklin.

Local schools once again had to consider whether to delay or cancel school, a decision that has been made every week this month because of snowstorms and cold weather. Schools don’t have to make up the time lost in two-hour delays, when the starts of their days are pushed back, but teachers have less time to work with their students before the end of the school year.

Most area schools had a two-hour delay on Monday, even though the temperature fell throughout the day. Delaying the start of school two hours means that more students are leaving for school in sunlight, so they can see the bus coming and wait for its arrival somewhere warm. The delay also gives the buses a chance to warm up before picking up students, Franklin Superintendent David Clendening said.

Clendening typically starts considering a two-hour delay for Franklin schools once wind chill levels are expected to drop to minus 10 or below. That’s when students might be more prone to frostbite or hypothermia, he said.

“We’re trying to look out for everyone’s safety. Two-hour delays are not ideal for anybody, but we’re trying to do the best we can,” Clendening said.

The average temperature for this time of year is 28 degrees. So far, this month is the 13th-coldest January on record, Dahmer said.

On Wednesday, temperatures should climb into the 20s and then reach the 30s by the weekend, though there’s a chance for snow to return on Friday. There’s also no way to know whether today is the last day we’ll have in the single digits, or whether more cold fronts will roll through before spring, Dahmer said.

“(We have) quite a ways to go through the rest of winter,” he said.

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