TERRE HAUTE —
The Wabash Valley was likely to be in the midst of a blizzard today that could drop as much as 14 inches of snow, according to the National Weather Service, and cause drifting because of winds gusting to 40 miles per hour.
An NWS blizzard warning was issued for 1 a.m. today until 7 tonight. The weather service ranked as high its confidence level in the forecast.
“The snow will last through tomorrow for your area, but by the evening you will have much stronger winds,” Accuweather meteorologist Alan Reppert told the Tribune-Star on Tuesday evening.
Accuweather forecasters predict the snow will clog roads and severely disrupt travel and daily routines. Temperatures will be around 30 degrees today, Reppert said, and no ice or sleet is anticipated for the Wabash Valley, though the snow will make travel hazardous.
Wind chill factors could be near 10 degrees, the NWS said on its mobile site shortly after 6 p.m. Tuesday.
As of 10:45 p.m. Tuesday, Vigo County Sheriff Greg Ewing canceled all days off for all merit deputies so that the department could triple its manpower during the storm.
“All road personnel will work their normal shift,” Chief Deputy Clark Cottom said in a statement issued shortly after 4:30 Tuesday. “All detectives will report in uniform and properly dressed for conditions to take calls on the road.”
“We intend to prepare for the worst, and will stand down when we see resources are no longer needed,” Cottom said, noting that the storm is predicted to continue through Wednesday night with winds gusting to 40 mph causing drifting snow and whiteout conditions.
Just after 6 p.m. Tuesday, the Vigo County Commissioners issued an advisory that asked citizens to avoid travel if possible from midnight Tuesday to noon Wednesday.
“Conditions will arise during the night that will make travel in Vigo County hazardous,” Dorene G. Hojnicki, director of the county’s Emergency Management Advisory, said in announcing the commissioners’ travel advisory.
The National Weather Service issued this advice: “If you must travel, have a winter survival kit with you. If you get stranded, stay with your vehicle.”
In addition to canceling officer’s days off, the sheriff’s department asked any available reserve deputies to respond for duty during the next 48 hours.
“Both the [department’s] corrections and communications staff have been put on alert and have been advised to make preparations for a storm of this magnitude,” Cottom said.
The Vigo County Highway Department was to prepare loaded sandbags to add weight to squad car trunks to increase traction for police vehicles.
On Tuesday afternoon, the weather service extended an earlier blizzard warning for southwest Indiana to include the Indianapolis area.
Meteorologist John Kwiatkowski said up to 11.5 inches of snow could fall in Indianapolis by this evening, and some areas west and south of the city could get as much as 14 inches.
Kwiatkowski said the heaviest snow was expected to fall in Indianapolis between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. today, with the worst road conditions during the afternoon rush hour.
“But snow forecasting is more of a magical art,” he added. “I would not be surprised if it’s a couple of inches different either way.”
The snowstorm could be the biggest to hit Indianapolis in nearly four years, the weather service said. The last storm this powerful dropped 12.6 inches of snow on Jan. 28, 2009.
Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard ordered all but essential city services, such as police and firefighters, to shut down today.
Ballard’s spokesman, Marc Lotter, said the city would have 118 snowplows patrolling the streets, and the state highway department said it planned to have nearly 70 on the road in Indianapolis and as many as 100 more clearing major roads in the surrounding region.
State police planned to have about 20 cruisers on patrol in the Indianapolis area throughout the storm, Capt. Dave Bursten said.
Troopers and snowplow drivers were expected to work shifts of 12 hours or more.
The storm was to begin its push into southwest Indiana on Christmas night, with 8 to 10 inches of snow expected to fall overnight, the weather service said. Forecasters warned that people driving in the Evansville area could face whiteout conditions this morning.
“It should be a heavy snow, and that’s one of our concerns,” said Robin Smith, a meteorologist at the Weather Service bureau in Paducah, Ky. “The reason we’re concerned is it will weigh heavy on trees and power lines, so there may be some power outages.”
The snow will be accompanied by 30 mph to 40 mph winds, so heavy drifting is also expected on state highways and county roads, he said.
Spokeswoman Cher Elliott said the Indiana Department of Transportation would have 120 snowplows out in the 18-county Evansville district, and drivers likely would be working 16-hour shifts.
Jerry Hedges, emergency management director for Gibson County, said local fire departments in the rural area north of Evansville were being readied for use as shelters for stranded travelers, and schools could be opened if more space is needed.
“If it comes worse to worse, the saving part of this is it’s a rural community, and we’ll get a huge response from the farmers,” he said.
Indiana Department of Homeland Security spokesman Ian Connor said the state emergency operations center would help coordinate counties’ storm response, shifting police or firefighters to areas where they were most needed.
The Indiana blizzard warning followed a Christmas Day filled with severe thunderstorms along the Gulf Coast, which faced drenching rains, high winds and damaging tornadoes.
The National Weather Service tweeted that a tornado was headed toward downtown Mobile, Ala., and WALA posted on its website a photo from its tower cam of what looked like a funnel cloud moving toward the city.
Near McNeill, Miss., in the southwestern part of the state, winds from a storm, possibly a tornado, damaged a dozen homes and injured several people, none seriously, said Pearl River County emergency management agency director Danny Manley.
Trees fell on a few houses in central Louisiana’s Rapides Parish but there were no injuries reported and crews were cutting trees out of roadways to get to people in their homes, said sheriff’s Lt. Tommy Carnline.
Also in Louisiana, quarter-sized hail was reported early Tuesday in the western part of the state and a WDSU viewer sent a photo to the TV station of what appeared to be a waterspout around the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway in New Orleans. There were no reports of crashes or damage.
In the Houston area, winds toppled a tree onto a pickup truck killing the driver. At least three tornadoes were reported in Texas, though only one building was damaged, according
to the National Weather
Tornado watches were in effect across southern Louisiana and Mississippi.
Icy roads already were blamed for a 21-vehicle pileup in Oklahoma, where authorities warned would-be travelers to stay home.
In the Atlanta area, fog blanketed highways, causing slowed traffic.
In New Mexico, drivers across the eastern plains had to fight through snow, ice and low visibility.
Nearly 350 flights nationwide were canceled by Tuesday evening, according to FlightAware.com. More than half were canceled into and out of Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport that got a few inches of snow.
Christmas lights also were knocked out with more than 70,000 people without power in east Texas, Arkansas, Mississippi and Louisiana.
Meanwhile, blizzard conditions were forecast for parts of Illinois, Indiana and western Kentucky. Much of Oklahoma and Arkansas braced under a winter storm warning of an early mix of rain and sleet forecast to eventually turn to snow. About a dozen counties in Missouri were under a blizzard warning from Tuesday night to noon today.
Some mountainous areas of Arkansas’ Ozark Mountains could get up to 10 inches of snow, which would make travel “very hazardous or impossible” in the northern tier of the state from near whiteout conditions, the National Weather Service said.
The holiday may conjure visions of snow and ice, but twisters this time of year are not unheard of. Ten storm systems in the last 50 years have spawned at least one Christmastime tornado with winds of 113 mph or more in the South, said Chris Vaccaro, a National Weather Service spokesman in Washington, via email.
The most lethal were the storms of Dec. 24-26, 1982, when 29 tornadoes in Oklahoma, Missouri, Arkansas, Tennessee and Mississippi killed three people and injured 32; and those of Dec. 24-25, 1964, when two people were killed and about 30 people injured by 14 tornadoes in seven states.