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Road crews struggle to keep up with weather

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With up to 9 inches of snow and subzero temperatures expected by morning, motorists have been told to stay off the roads.

Local officials declared a snow emergency with a travel warning Sunday afternoon, meaning only emergency vehicles or motorists with an emergency should be driving so plows can clear the streets.

Police can issue tickets to motorists who shouldn’t be on the roads, Johnson County Emergency Management Director Stephanie Sichting said.

“They’re treacherous. The snow is dangerous right now,” Sichting said Sunday evening.

The warning was expected to remain in effect until sometime Monday because the heavy snow and freezing temperatures were slowing plow drivers from clearing the roads, she said.

A line of snow changing to rain divided the county. Heavy snow pummeled Greenwood throughout the day, while rain and sleet fell in Franklin early before more snow starting falling.

Road crews were keeping up with the snow until about 1 p.m., when the constant snow became too much to handle. In Franklin, roads went from wet-but-clear to snow-covered as more than 1 inch of snow was coming down in an hour.

“In the last 45 minutes to an hour, we have lost the roads,” Mayor Joe McGuinness said Sunday afternoon.

Near whiteout conditions were reported along Interstate 65 on Sunday afternoon when a semitrailer jackknifed, closing a ramp at Whiteland Road.

In the hours before the snow began to fall, shoppers preparing to hunker down at home bought out milk, bread, water and other staples from local stores.

Now, the bitter cold is setting in.

Franklin College, Center Grove schools, Clark-Pleasant schools, Franklin Community Schools, Greenwood Community Schools and Nineveh-Hensley-Jackson schools all canceled classes today. County government offices closed. And classes at Franklin schools could be canceled again tomorrow, depending on how cold the temperatures are, Superintendent David Clendening said.

The Indiana Red Cross planned to open a shelter at Franklin Community Middle School if enough residents lost power. By Sunday afternoon, more than 200 local residents were without power, according to Duke Energy and Johnson County REMC.

National Weather Service meteorologist Chad Swain anticipated temperatures to fall to 10 to 15 degrees below zero Sunday night. But with wind gusts of 30 to 40 mph, it would feel like 35 below zero, he said. Temperatures are expected to get so low that exposed skin could freeze in 20 minutes.

On Sunday, at least 20 slideoffs were reported along local roads and I-65, and the Bargersville and Franklin fire departments were offering their fire stations as warming shelters for motorists picked up by police following accidents, Sichting said.

The county issued a snow emergency and travel warning, meaning only emergency vehicles should be on the roads so plow drivers could clear the streets of the snow and ice.

Rain complications

Rain falling was expected to freeze on the ground as temperatures dropped, making driving on streets difficult, Swain said.

Temperatures likely would stay below zero until Tuesday, he said.

McGuinness was concerned that slush and wet roads caused when rain and sleet passed through the city would freeze and turn into sheets of ice under the snow that fell later.

The mayor also was concerned that water on power lines could freeze and fall, causing power outages for residents and businesses in the city.

Duke Energy got its first call about a power outage in Johnson County at about 11 a.m.; by Sunday afternoon, 228 customers were without power.

Crews worked to repair power lines weighed down by snow or broken tree limbs, spokesman Lew Middleton said.

“Our crews are working as quickly and safely as they can. As you can imagine, the excessive snow is making it more difficult for our crews,” he said.

Johnson County REMC had 47 outages, with the majority of the ones in Johnson County reported in White River Township.

Johnson County government offices and courts closed, joining offices in Indianapolis that also closed today.

The Johnson County Sheriff’s Office was asking residents to stay home as early as Sunday morning so state, county and city crews could clear roads of snow, Sheriff Doug Cox said.

“We would prefer that now that they’re home from church that they would stay home,” he said.

Losing ground fast

Before noon, road crews in Greenwood were keeping pace with the snow, but it continued to fall and picked up pace as the day progressed. Since the snow was coming down so fast, roads were snow covered again within minutes of a plow clearing them, Mayor Mark Myers said. Drivers were hitting curbs in the morning because roads were covered with so much snow, he said.

Conditions in Franklin changed within about an hour and roads went from clear to snow-covered, McGuinness said. The slush and standing water under the snow was making some roads extremely slippery, he said.

“If it does stick and keeps up at this pace it will be quicker than we can keep up with,” McGuinness said.

Franklin had been on the border between snow and rain.

The rain-snow line was moving south across the county, National Weather Service meteorologist Amanda Lee said. By late Sunday, she expected up to 6 inches of snow to accumulate on the southern side and up to 9 inches closer to Indianapolis, she said. Snow was falling at a rate of about a half-inch to an inch per hour for part of Sunday in Greenwood, she said.

After Sunday, the National Weather Service predicted only flurries through Wednesday, Swain said.

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