Heavy snow hits region, closes schools, clogs roads
POST-TRIBUNE STAFF REPORT January 21, 2014 9:12AM
List is as of press time; for up-to-date information, check your school website.
Ambassador Academy (Gary)
Gary Community Schools
Gary Lighthouse Primary (k-2)
Griffith Public Schools
Lake Ridge Schools
Hammond (2-hour delay)
Highland (2-hour delay)
Schererville (2-hour delay)
Crown Point (2-hour delay)
Updated: February 23, 2014 6:21AM
A heavy lake-effect snow band pounded communities in northern Lake County with close to 2 feet of snow in some places on Tuesday.
White-out conditions brought traffic to a standstill on the Borman Expressway and also clogged parts of the Indiana Toll Road and Interstate 65.
The snow started late Monday, but accumulations didn’t start to pile up until after 6 a.m. Tuesday. Snow fell at a rate of 3 inches or more per hour in some areas in the late morning and early afternoon.
By 1:30 p.m., the snow band moved east toward Porter County, which could see 1 to 6 inches of new snow in the northern areas. It was under a lake-effect snow advisory until midnight Tuesday, according to the National Weather Service.
Earlier in the day, the Indiana State Police had warned motorists to avoid westbound Interstate 94. By 4 p.m., westbound traffic was clear but eastbound traffic was backed up into Illinois.
Packed snow on local roads made traffic treacherous, with slick roads causing vehicles to spin their wheels.
Snow was accompanied by bitter cold, with high temperatures in the teens and wind chills of below zero. With temperatures expected to plummet to around zero overnight, local officials already were readying their response to the arctic chill coming after the heavy snow.
In East Chicago, a warming shelter was set up at Heritage Hall Community Center, 4506 Tod Ave. Herbie Cruz, director of the East Chicago Emergency Management Agency, announced the warming center would be open from 4 p.m. Tuesday to 7 a.m. Wednesday, and again from 4 p.m. Wednesday to 7 a.m. Thursday.
Snowfall amounts varied widely across the region, with some areas getting nearly 2 feet and others reporting sunshine and scant accumulation.
Highland received 24 inches, Griffith reported 20 inches as of 11:30 a.m., while Gary/Chicago International Airport had 17 to 18 inches and Hammond got 16 inches.
Lake County Highway Superintendent Marcus Malczewski said accumulations really varied during this storm. While Lowell was clear and Crown Point received 3 inches, Calumet Township was hit hard.
“All our crews are moving east with the storm,” he said.
Malczewski said the county’s salt supply is sufficient, but it is using more this season compared to last winter, which was relatively dry.
Traffic was slowed to a crawl or stopped on I-80/94 and I-65 for much of the day as motorists encountered dangerous white-out conditions and heavy snowfall.
INDOT advised drivers to avoid nonessential travel, so plow and salt crews could efficiently clear roads. Crews will continue to plow and salt 24 hours a day, in alternating 12-hour shifts, as long as necessary to ensure roadway conditions remain as safe as possible during winter weather.
Many schools in Lake County dealt with the falling snow by either delaying the start, dismissing early or canceling altogether. Schools in Gary, Merrillville and Highland scheduled early dismissals on Tuesday.
Gary Community Schools Corp. spokeswoman Sarita Stevens said officials kept students in school until the snow lifted for safety.
“We knew the lake-effect snow would stop by noon,” she said. “That’s why we kept the kids in a safe place until noon, but the road conditions are expected to worsen.”
Stevens also said all public schools will be closed Wednesday, the fourth snow day of the year in Gary. The closures will keep school buses, faculty and staff off the roads while the city tries to clear roads.
“If we clog up the roads while (city crews) are trying to clear roads, it just causes more of a problem,” Stevens said.
The district will have to make up at least two of the snow days, she said. The district must decide on lengthening a number of academic days, adding full makeup days to the end of the normal school year or some combination of both.
East Chicago and Hanover schools canceled classes, and other school systems delayed the start of their day.
Indiana State Police Cpl. Larry Koebcke said the biggest problems on I-80/94 were around the Cline Avenue and Burr Street exits.
Koebcke said slide-offs and other accidents have not been a problem, likely because traffic was barely moving or at a standstill.
Driving throughout Gary was treacherous, with numerous spin-outs along main roads like 25th Avenue, from Broadway to west of Chase Street. At Burr Street and 25th Avenue, Gary Sanitary District trucks armed with plows and at least one plowing contractor worked to clear the busy intersection.
Gary Communications Director Chelsea Whittington said city crews began plowing main thoroughfares followed by side streets. Whittington also said the city’s Public Works Department began calling plowing contractors.
The city also reminded motorists to observe “No Parking” areas, marked by signs, indicating any cars parked in areas with 2 or more inches of snow will be towed.
“We just ask that motorists try to stay off the roads if possible,” Whittington said.
The City of Gary dismissed all employees at 3 p.m. Tuesday, with the exception of employees in general services, police, fire and public works who are assisting with snow removal. City offices are expected to be open Wednesday.
Street plowing will continue around the clock, focusing on the main streets. Side streets and alleys will be plowed as the snowfall subsides and only after the main streets are cleared.
Staff writers Christin Nance Lazerus, Teresa Auch Schultz and Carole Carlson and correspondents Michael Gonzalez, Michelle L. Quinn and Carrie Napoleon contributed to this report.