Major snow doesn’t arrive, but more still coming

After forecasts calling for up to a foot of snow and mass closures of government offices and local businesses, there were some complaints about the anticlimactic storm that did come, although it brought enough snow and ice to wreak havoc on the county roadways.

The threat of major snow led to pre-emptive closures of county and city offices, as well as businesses throughout the county and region, as well as cancellation of annual events like Ash Wednesday ceremonies. But residents went to bed on Monday still able to see their grass.

“Basically the forecast that we were given and the weather we got were two different (things),” said Hancock County emergency manager Kyle Veach on Tuesday, about the National Weather Service’s forecast.

“Their prediction on this whole thing was kind of wrong,” he said. “They have what they call the bust potential, which is the potential for all their models to be wrong, and this one busted… The highest model was showing 12 inches of snow. We got less than 3 inches average in the county, as of today.”

Not getting a foot of snow didn’t mean the county was free of troubles, because ice came last week, followed this week by the snow, which will be followed late Wednesday and into Thursday by more snow, all part of the same storm.

“They have this all lumped together as one so far, but in three different waves,” he said.

Snow covered the roads and temperatures dropped down to the single digits for the lows, so road crews struggled to get and keep roads passable.

“This snow really lent itself to being a very hard packing snow that makes it harder for the road department (to clear),” Veach said. “Once it’s packed on there and frozen hard and then with these cold temperatures the salt’s not as effective as it would’ve been if it had been closer to the freezing temperature.”

Despite the cold and a base layer of ice, the impact of the storm was minimal compared to what had been expected.

“We haven’t had any injuries due to any kind of accidents or falls or anything due to the latest weather event,” he said. “We only had probably reports of maybe eight to 10 trees down, so that led to us not having nearly as many without power and us not having to open any shelters or warming centers.”

According to EMS director Damian Rice, since February 7 there were reports at least 31 vehicle slide-offs, 10 trees down, four calls for power outages, and two medical runs related to the storm.

The county came out better than other areas of the state.

“There are some counties that have 100 percent power outages, that have had mud slides, and multi-casualty accidents on the interstate, things like that,” Veach said.

Hancock County did have its own short-term disaster last Thursday when rain and freezing temperatures combined to create black ice on roadways, even shutting down state Route 69 at one point because too many cars had slid off the road on one particular hill.

“In the ice and you’ll find yourself traveling along very smoothly and then all the sudden not, you’ll find yourself in the ditch,” he said.

Any sudden movement, like braking, can send a car off the road.

“That was the issue we had out there on 69 just before South Hancock, was people would come up over that hill and they see a car and they hit their brakes and they’re in the ditch as well and it’s just a chain reaction,” he said.

That section of the road is a long, steep hill in a curve so some cars couldn’t make it up the slick hill and others slid off it, all bunching up together in one spot, 15 in total.

“We had some that made contact with other vehicles. We had some that were in ditches on both sides of the road. We had some who had hit the guardrail and kind of ended up in the ditch,” he said.

After a very slow drive, officials were able to tow abandoned cars to the school parking lot and get other drivers on their way so they could open the road back up.

“A quarter inch of ice can do just as much damage and cripple a county just as much as a foot of snow,” he said. “A quarter inch of ice will add 500 pounds to a power line from pole to pole.”

That weight, combined with wind, could’ve led to widespread power outages, which didn’t happen in Hancock County.

“I think at one time the most people we had without power was 106,” he said, “and that wasn’t for an extended period of time.

Outages, normally caused by falling tree limbs or even falling trees, were rare in the county because of recent clearing of right of ways by power provider Kenergy.

“We’ve come to the conclusion that the contractors that Kenergy had in, The Halter Group, we saw their trucks all around town, they were probably our saving grace,” Veach said. “You can’t measure how much they did because we don’t know what would’ve fell had they not cut it down.”

There’s still time for more problems though, because the third phase of the storm is predicted to hit just after press time.

“We’re monitoring and setting up for another event coming in Thursday,” he said. “In the conference call we had this afternoon they said that there is a high probability of us getting 1 to 3 inches of snow.”

By Dave Taylor


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