News From Terre Haute, Indiana

December 27, 2012

In many ways, this was a ‘perfect storm,’ police official says

Arthur Foulkes
The Tribune-Star

TERRE HAUTE — Wednesday’s snowstorm, the biggest one of the season so far, was a “perfect storm” in many ways – in a good way, according to emergency responders.

First, the snow hit when schools, including colleges and Indiana State University, were closed for Christmas break. The storm also came the day after Christmas, a traditionally mild traffic day, especially for commercial truck traffic, said Clark Cottom, chief deputy with the Vigo County Sheriff’s Department.

“For all nights for it to come, last night was a good night,” Cottom said Wednesday.

Weather forecasters, government officials, local businesses and the news media also played positive roles, according to police. The storm, which was feared to bring up to 14 inches of snow, was predicted well in advance, giving people plenty of time to prepare.

It also led to the early closure of government offices and retail businesses, such as Honey Creek Mall. That kept people at home and off the streets.

It also helped that organizers postponed the popular Pizza Hut Wabash Valley Classic high school basketball tournament – a 16-school, multi-day event – by one day, police said. It starts today.

“We really had very few people out on the roadways,” Cottom said.

Ironically, less severe storms involving just two or three inches of snow can often involve more crashes, Cottom said. “The storm was severe enough that it kept people in,” he said.

Local motorists also responded very well to the storm, said Sgt. Joe Watts of the Indiana State Police. The ISP responded to 44 vehicle slide-offs and 15 crashes between 6 a.m. Wednesday and 5:30 p.m., Watts said. Nearly all of the incidents took place on Interstate-70 involving people driving too fast for the conditions – many in four-wheel drive vehicles – or involved drivers with no experience in snow, he said.

Only a few minor injuries were reported in any of Wednesday’s accidents as of late Wednesday evening, according to police. Damaged vehicles led the state police to transport five families to local hotels, Watts said. One family included a mother and three small children. Another included a husband, wife and three pet dogs, he said.

Meanwhile, highway, street and road crews worked all day Wednesday clearing roads. The Indiana Department of Transportation worked throughout the storm on state-owned roads while Vigo County and Terre Haute crews plowed streets and spread sand and salt on the area’s other major roadways.

“I’ve got trucks on all the main roads,” said Jim Smith, shop foreman at the Terre Haute Street Department, whose trucks had been prepared for the worst starting at 11 p.m. Christmas night. Drivers were called in to work and were pulling overtime shifts, Smith said.

“I don’t think we got the snow they predicted,” said John Norton, a driver for the city. Norton’s shift had started at 11 p.m. Christmas and ended at 2 p.m. Wednesday. He was due back to work five hours later.

“Sleep,” Norton and fellow drivers Namond Smith and Stephen Heng answered smiling when asked what they do during a brief five-hour lapse between driving shifts.

Wednesday’s high temperatures in the low 30s helped make clearing the roads a little easier, the drivers said. They also all agreed the snowfall was nothing compared with the big ice storm of two years ago.

“I’ll take 16 inches of snow over that,” Norton said.

Reporter Arthur Foulkes can be reached at 812-231-4232 or