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Winter weather bearing down; School ready as shelter

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Plow trucks will put down salt on local roads today and a Franklin school has been prepped to become a shelter for residents without power as a winter storm bringing heavy snow and frigid temperatures nears.

In the biggest snowstorm so far this winter, Johnson County could get hit with up to 10 inches of snow by Sunday, with high winds and temperatures dropping throughout the day.

Local agencies began forming emergency plans days in advance, snowplow drivers were prepared to work long shifts, and salt trucks began pretreating roads. Police and fire departments and local utilities will have additional staff ready to work and have a plan to rotate workers, so they stay out of the frigid air as much as possible.

A winter storm watch is in effect for Johnson County and other counties in central Indiana until Sunday night. High winds could result in wind chills of minus 40 degrees and cause drifting snow, according to the National Weather Service.

The heavy snow and high winds could knock out power during the storm, which is causing extra concern considering how low temperatures are expected to fall, Johnson County Emergency Management Agency director Stephanie Sichting said. The Indiana Red Cross will open a shelter at Franklin Community Middle School for residents without power because the school has a generator, Sichting said.

Travel restrictions could be put in place Sunday if roads become too dangerous for drivers.

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Road crews are getting plows repaired and ready for the storm and will begin treating roads with salt today. The Indiana Department of Transportation will start treating state highways and interstates with chloride salt, which helps melt snow until temperatures fall lower than zero, spokesman Harry Maginity said. Workers will do their best to keep up with the storm on Sunday with the goal of having roads ready for commuters headed to work Monday, he said.

“We’re looking to have another snow fight, and according to the weathermen it’s going to be the worst one yet,” Maginity said.

The state will call in all of its available plow drivers over the weekend, Maginity said. But low temperatures will reduce how effective salt is at melting snow and ice, and plows might not be able to keep up with the snow depending on how fast it falls, he said.

Motorists should slow down and plan additional time to travel during the storm, he said.

Roads could become snow-covered more quickly because of the accumulation from earlier this week. Since that snow is light and powdery, high winds are expected to cause more drifting across roads, Maginity said.

Power outages possible

The Johnson County Highway Department has been fighting drifting in the rural areas of the county since snow fell Thursday, director Luke Mastin said.

With more powdery snow and wind expected Sunday, Mastin expects rural roads will be in poor condition for several days.

“With temperatures as low as they’re being forecast, it makes it very difficult for salt or other chemicals to melt the snow,” Mastin said.

The wind and heavy snow also could knock out power lines, which is why Sichting already has made arrangements to set up a shelter. Since temperatures will be so low, the weather would be dangerous for anyone without heat, she said.

Because of the cold temperatures, Johnson County REMC will not turn off electric service for residents who haven’t paid their bills, chief executive officer Chet Aubin said.

“If there’s a chance of people’s pipes freezing, we don’t,” Aubin said.

The electric company also will modify how crews work to protect them in the cold. Johnson County REMC will send out crews of four workers, rather than the typical two-member teams, so they can rotate two-person shifts and take regular breaks to get warm and prevent frostbite, Aubin said.

If firefighters have to put out a fire in below-zero temperatures, the fire department will call other departments for help so no firefighters have to work long shifts in the cold, Franklin Fire Department spokesman Chuck Ridpath said.

The county school districts will decide whether to delay or cancel the first day of spring semester classes Monday based on how much snow falls and the temperatures, Center Grove Community School Corp. communications specialist Stacy Conrad said.

Local superintendents will talk over the weekend and likely have a conference call early Monday morning to make a decision, she said.

Governments prepare

State government offices already are scheduled to open late at 10 a.m. Monday because of the snow and cold temperatures expected in Indianapolis.

Sichting will be in contact with local police, fire department, street workers, and county, city and town officials to monitor conditions throughout Sunday.

If road conditions worsen and travel becomes too dangerous, the county could issue a travel watch, which discourages residents from traveling unless necessary, or a warning, she said. That means no one except

emergency vehicles should be on the roads, she said.

The Johnson County Sheriff’s Office isn’t scheduling additional deputies to work Sunday but did cancel training sessions that day to make sure more deputies are available if needed, Sheriff Doug Cox said. If deputies working Sunday are overwhelmed with calls from stranded motorists or accidents, the shift supervisor can call in additional officers, Cox said.

As road conditions worsen, local emergency workers will make sure they don’t get stuck on snowy roads like the people they’re trying to assist.

Deputies will be sent out in four-wheel-drive vehicles so they don’t get stuck in heavy snow, Cox said. The Franklin Fire Department will carry bags of salt and sand in fire trucks in case emergency vehicles need traction or to prevent firefighters from slipping.

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