HANCOCK COUNTY — Jason Stocklin had the perfect reason for heading to the grocery with his 6-year-old son before the storm hit Monday afternoon.
“My wife needed coffee creamer, and I needed a reason to drive out in the snow,” Stocklin said as he loaded groceries and diapers into the back of his red Jeep Cherokee 4-by-4 outside Kroger in Greenfield.
His son Levi agreed that driving around in the snow with his dad was a fun thing to do, as Stocklin’s wife, Whittney, and infant daughter, June, stayed home.
The Stocklins were among a number of unworried shoppers who were making final store runs Monday, Feb. 15, in the hours before the large storm brought heavy snow and blustery winds to Hancock County. Those approached to be interviewed for this story were treating their shopping trips as normal chores, perhaps because they’re accustomed to shutdowns and altered schedules by now.
The storm, part of a massive system that threatened 150 million people from Maine to Texas, was expected to dump a significant amount of snow into today. Emergency management officials and police asked people to stay home, suggesting it would be hard to respond to every person who gets stranded.
“It’s going to be treacherous travel conditions for sure,” said Misty Moore, Hancock County’s emergency management director.
“If people must be out on the roads, they need to be prepared if they go off of the road and get stuck,” added Capt. Chuck McMichael, public information officer for the Greenfield Police Department. “With this storm, they may be stuck for some time before crews can get to them.”
Blowing snow was a major concern for road crews, who will struggle to keep county roads open today if wind-whipped drifts develop as expected.
Officials placed Hancock County under an “orange” travel warning at 4 p.m. Monday afternoon, meaning drivers should avoid all but the most necessary travel, such as going to work or responding to an emergency. The travel warning was expected to remain in place today.
Schools and many offices already were closed Monday because of the President’s Day holiday, and a number of nonprofits and agencies that serve vulnerable populations were considering curtailing their services today as the storm moves out and dangerous wind-chill effects move in. All four county school districts reverted to e-learning status for today.
Residents were encouraged to check entities’ social media pages or websites for the latest information on closings and postponements.
A potent combination
The combination of snow, wind and low temperatures made the storm one of the worst in recent memory, officials said.
Andrew White, meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Indianapolis, noted the storm was larger than what we normally see due to the colder temperatures.
The amount of moisture coming in, combined with the low temperature, created a light, fluffy snow and increased the “snow ratio”; that is, the amount of snow compared to the amount of liquid water in a cloud, White said.
“Where you might get a 10-1 ratio in a normal snowfall, this one is more like a 20-1 ratio,” White said. “We’re getting a lot of liquid that is leading to more snow.”
The forecast for the rest of the week calls for more snow showers with modest additional accumulation. Warmer temperatures won’t roll in until Sunday the earliest, extending the streak of days below freezing that began Feb. 6.
Monday night and today will be a challenging time for road crews. By early today, crews had already been at work for more than 24 hours.
Hancock County engineer Gary Pool said it’s been about two years since the county last dealt with a major snow storm. With this much accumulation, Pool said many of the county’s smaller roads will likely be unnavigable for a day or two.
“The wind’s going to be the biggest problem,” Pool said.
Greenfield street commissioner Tyler Rankins said he called in drivers to begin plowing snow at about 2 a.m. on Monday. Since the storm was expected to linger, employees from other city departments who have commercial driver’s licenses are on standby to provide relief to Rankins’ workers.
“We might be plowing until Tuesday evening,” Rankins said.
The street department has plenty of salt on hand, and has put in an order for 650 more tons to get through the rest of the reason, Rankins said. Labor costs will also be up due to the snow storm — because Monday was President’s Day, city employees will be paid overtime rates for all their work.
Pool also anticipated a hefty cost for dealing with the snow storm, between salt and labor costs.
“We say that a snow storm costs the county about $50,000 per inch,” he said.
Pool and Rankins advised drivers to stay off the roads and to avoid parking their cars on the street if at all possible. If staying at home isn’t possible, Pool said, drivers should be careful to stay out of the way of snow trucks. Drivers have reduced visibility while clearing snow. Pool also advised sticking to major roads and, if possible, state roads, since those are more likely to be clear.
Ron Crider, McCordsville’s public works commissioner, said the storm will pose an unusual challenge.
“Our main goal is to remove the snow and ice within a reasonable amount of time,” Crider said. “And over the last four or five years, we’ve been spoiled. We haven’t had a lot of snow, but with this coming up, it’s going to be a battle. But I have a very good crew and I think we can take care of it.”
Indiana Department of Transportation spokeswoman Mallory Duncan said the department is marshaling all of its resources to deal with the storm, with snow truck drivers working 12-hour shifts. Thirty trucks have been deployed in the Greenfield area, in addition to 50 in Indianapolis.
Because of the low temperatures, Duncan said, INDOT is using about twice as much salt as it would if the temperature were in the 20- to 30-degree range, using about 1,700 tons of salt so far (a truck can carry 22 tons at a time). Fortunately, she added, the extra expense is built into INDOT’s budget, and there’s plenty of salt available.
First-responders plan and prepare for weather emergencies such as these kinds of storms, said Tony Bratcher, public information officer for Sugar Creek Township Fire Department.
“We always have a backup plan,” Bratcher said.
The department has a utility plow truck to help clear the way.
“We can put guys in that truck and respond to medical calls,” Bratcher said. “We’re prepared.”
Fire departments also want to remind people who are shoveling to clear fire hydrants in a three-foot radius.
“That would help us greatly,” Bratcher said.
Businesses brace for storm
Businesses — many of which already have spent close a year dealing with shutdowns and people working from home — were preparing for the storm as well, getting on the list for snow removal by private contractors and hoping they can stay open today.
“We got our plow guys ready to be ready,” Jake Burgess, co-owner of FoxGardin Kitchen and Ale in Fortville, said of preparations for the restaurant’s parking lot.
He’s more concerned about inside the restaurant, particularly when it comes to pipes freezing.
“If I don’t have water, then I don’t have a restaurant,” he said.
The storm could end up being good for business, he added.
“It’s always a fun day when it’s an adult snow day,” Burgess said. “A lot of people are working from home as it is, and when they know they can’t go out, restaurants are usually one of the places they want to go and just be safe and know they don’t have to go anywhere.”
Robert Garcia, owner of The Grill in McCordsville, plans to play the storm by ear.
“We’ll just have to do the best we can,” he said. “Obviously if the roads are very treacherous and things like that, I don’t know if we’d continue to stay open for the rest of the day.”
Others, however, were taking the storm in stride.
Tom Marlett, 65, seemed unfazed by the forecast as he loaded a few bags of groceries into his car outside Kroger on Monday. He was scheduled to have his first of two COVID-19 shots this morning at Hancock Regional Hospital in Greenfield, and he planned to be there, no matter how much snow fell overnight.
“I don’t get too worried about the snow,” said the Greenfield man. “I just get out and go.”
Kristy Deer, Mitchell Kirk, Jessica Karins and Shelley Swift of the Daily Reporter staff contributed to this story.
IF YOU GO OUT, BE PREPARED
Police and emergency management officials strongly discourage unnecessary travel during the storm. But if you do have to be out, you should have a winter weather car kit that includes a phone charger, flashlight, blankets, extra warm clothes, water, non-perishable snacks, hat and gloves and blankets.
It’s also a good idea to check your headlights and taillights to be sure they are not obstructed by snow.
Officials encourage people to sign up for Smart911, a mobile alert system that feeds information in emergency situations to an app. People are also encouraged to monitor emergency agencies’ social media sites for the latest information.
People who must travel can call Indiana State Police at 800-261-7623 to learn about road conditions. Please do not call 911 to find out conditions of roadways, officials said.
People may otherwise call the county’s nonemergency number, 317-477-1147 if they need shelter or want to report a non-life-threatening issue such as downed power lines.