Updated Wednesday: Lucas County and Hancock County have changed to a Level 1.
Motorists were ordered off the roads in Lucas County and across northwest Ohio for another day Tuesday following a strong winter storm, while forecasters said lingering brisk winds and subzero cold would diminish by early today.
“It’s crazy,” Meghan Wawrzyniak, a shopper at a South Toledo Kroger store, said of the bitter cold that was amplified for a second day by wind chills of -30 or lower for much of Tuesday, despite bright sunshine. “I don’t like it, but we’ve got to deal with it, I guess, if we live in Ohio.”
Toledo officials, meanwhile, began towing cars from snow-clogged residential streets — not to impound them, but just to move them a block or two away so plows could get through.
On Olson Street in North Toledo, Jim Piasecki of Piasecki Service towed four cars into their owners’ driveways after the vehicles wouldn’t start.
“There will not be a charge or a fine for the tow,” said Robert Reinbolt, chief of staff for Mayor D. Michael Collins. Moving the cars was strictly a safety issue so emergency vehicles can get through, he said.
Schools remained closed for a second day, with many districts announcing plans to stay closed today even as temperatures climb back above zero. Forecasters said the modest warming trend was likely to be accompanied by snow showers, although no significant new accumulations were expected.
Toledo’s low temperature for Tuesday, -14, smashed the record for the date of -6 set in 1970, but forecasts for even colder temperatures came up short as a wind shift late Monday evening brought in slightly warmer air to end a 35-degree temperature plunge that day. The -15 reading Monday night was Toledo’s coldest in nearly 20 years, and wind chills dipped below -40 at times.
But by sunrise Tuesday, the mercury at Toledo Express Airport had climbed back to -12, and it edged higher ever so slowly throughout the day.
At The Blade building downtown, temperatures finally tipped over the 0 degree mark late Tuesday, reported to be just shy of 1 degree at 8 p.m.
At Toledo Express Airport, temperatures dipped back down to -3 late Tuesday before hitting a high of 0 Tuesday night.
The Lucas County Sheriff’s Office reduced the county’s Level 3 status to a Level 2 at 11 p.m. Tuesday.
Some neighboring counties that kept their Level 3 travel bans in effect throughout Monday night reduced them to Level 2 by Tuesday afternoon.
Wood County downgraded to a Level 1 just before 12:30 p.m. today.
While blowing and drifting snow was only an isolated issue in Toledo, it remained a major problem Tuesday in the wide-open countryside of northwest Ohio and southeast Michigan.
Officials on both sides of the state line warned motorists to avoid driving on snow-covered, drift-laden rural roads even as travel bans are lifted on major routes.
After reducing Lucas County’s storm alert on Monday from Level 3, a conditional travel ban, to Level 2, an advisory against nonessential travel, Sheriff John Tharp reinstated a Level 3 alert at 3:50 a.m. Tuesday, catching some people off-guard.
Sheriff Tharp said his decision was based on consultation with the Ohio Highway Patrol and other law-enforcement officials, along with accident reports and a crash he witnessed himself about 3 a.m. while surveying conditions on I-475/U.S. 23 in Springfield Township.
“At this point we felt we had to go to a Level 3 or somebody is going to get killed,” he said.
The sheriff said he saw a United Parcel Service vehicle spin out on the slippery roadway and slide into a ditch near the same spot where two other vehicles had previously slid off the road.
“We are to the point now, where in my opinion as sheriff, because of all the calls we have received and what we have observed, it is not a snow emergency. It is an ice emergency,” Sheriff Tharp said.
“Most of the snow has been removed from the streets and the streets appear to be passable. But they are dangerous.”
Mayor Collins, who said he supported the sheriff’s decision, visited a Division of Streets, Bridges, and Harbor garage during the noon shift change Tuesday and commended about two dozen workers there.
“You guys pay it forward for the city of Toledo,” the mayor said. “I am speaking for the citizens of the city of Toledo, and they are grateful for what you have allowed them to have, and that is a safe weekend.
“The next thing we have to do is fix the streets because it is going to look like a war zone out there when this is over,” Mr. Collins added.
City worker Douglas McNulty said the decision Monday afternoon to relax to a Level 2 emergency had hampered clean-up efforts because of the increased traffic.
“Yesterday killed us,” Mr. McNulty told the mayor. “People had gas to waste. It just made it difficult for us.”
Early-shift workers at the Kroger store and a nearby bakery Tuesday morning said they were already at their jobs before they found out roads had been closed to all but emergency and “essential” travel.
“We had a surprising amount of traffic. I don’t know if people just didn’t know” about the travel ban, Caleb King, a baker at Wixey Bakery on Glendale Avenue, said as he left the store following its 10:30 a.m. closing.
An earlier shift had been preparing baked goods overnight, Mr. King said, “and they didn’t know we had a Level 3 until we had product made.”
Ms. Wawrzyniak said she was out and about only because she had gone to work, only to find her employer, Oasis Restaurant and Delivery, had closed because of the weather.
On Broadway, Bob Savage was busy scraping off and warming up cars, but said he had no plans to go anywhere Tuesday.
“I’m just dusting each of them off now so I won’t have to do it tomorrow morning,” Mr. Savage explained.
“It should be a lot better tomorrow — up into the teens or something.”
Dr. Brian Kaminski, emergency physician at ProMedica Flower Hospital Emergency Center, said there were two confirmed cases of frostbite in Sylvania — one on Monday and one on Tuesday.
He said some people do not cover sensitive areas, such as fingers, toes, head, or ears, when they go outside, believing since they will be exposed to extreme temperatures for only a minute or so, they are safe.
“But you never know how long you’re going to be outside due to the weather. Maybe you have to clear off your car” or some people get stuck on the road, he said.
His advice is to always dress as if you will be outside for a prolonged period.
At Flower Hospital, several wrist and ankle fractures or sprains from people falling on the ice were reported in the last few days.
The National Weather Service said that after dropping initially Tuesday evening, temperatures would rise into the single digits above zero by sunrise today and top out in the midteens this afternoon.
Any new snow, meanwhile, will add to a monthly total of 22.4 inches that already makes this the sixth-snowiest January on record for Toledo. The record, 30.8 inches, was set in 1978.
Light snow is possible into Friday, when the weather service predicted temperatures warm enough for a change to rain showers. Rain is likely Friday night into Saturday, forecasters said — a prediction that raised the possibility of flooding in the region from both snow melt and ice jams.
Rain following a snowstorm last month caused major flooding along the Auglaize River through Findlay and Ottawa, and several other northwest Ohio rivers also overflowed.
April Cochran, a spokesman for AAA Northwest Ohio, said Tuesday the auto club had responded to more than 2,000 service calls in its eight-county district since the storm began Sunday — about 60 percent more than normal for winter.
Most calls were from motorists whose vehicles became stuck in the snow or had dead batteries, Ms. Cochran said.
AAA responds to roadside service calls during Level 3 emergencies for safety reasons, she said.
On Airport Highway near Decatur Street, Maurice Hilliard rolled his pickup onto the street so he and his neighbor, Keith Pace, could jump-start it after it wouldn’t start in his driveway.
But jump-starting didn’t work, leading Mr. Pace to conclude that a frozen gas line, not a dead battery, was its problem.
“It’s rough, and it’s something I never want to go through again for the rest of my life,” Mr. Hilliard said of Tuesday’s chill before explaining that he and his wife had planned to run some errands, and that he didn’t know about the travel ban.
Freddie Coleman cited a huge storm in 1978 as a benchmark.
“You forget how bad ’78 was, but this reminds you,” the West Toledo resident said while waiting outside the Walmart on Glendale for his wife to pick up a few items. That was part of a trip home from a medical clinic — that was closed because of the weather.
Mr. Coleman said he and his wife had gone to the clinic because of its $250 charge to patients who miss appointments, “but after this, we’re done for the day.”
But not everyone was impressed by the cold.
Chris Andrejan, a letter carrier working along Glendale, said it was his first winter as a mailman after having worked at a cold-storage business.
“I used to work in a freezer that was 15 below, so I’m kind of used to extreme climates,” he said.
Blade staff writers Ignazio Messina, Vanessa McCray, and Mark Reiter contributed to this report.
Contact David Patch at: email@example.com or 419-724-6094.