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PORT CLINTON — Winter’s first major storm in northwest Ohio and southeast Michigan was long on bark but short on bite.
For those eager for a white day after Christmas, the storm that rolled through the region Wednesday delivered. But it lacked the punch many forecasters had predicted, with blizzard warnings posted for counties east of Toledo scrapped 12 hours early and snowfall totals well short of Tuesday’s predictions.
“It was producing [the] good snowfall amounts we look for in a blizzard, but not the frequent [wind] gusts. ... You need both of those conditions for at least three hours for blizzard conditions,” said Brian Mitchell, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Cleveland. “It’s still bad out; it was still a winter storm.”
But the 3 to 7 inches predicted for Toledo during the daytime hours was a bust, with just 0.6 inch early at Toledo Express Airport. By late Wednesday, no more than an additional inch had fallen, and forecasters said the storm was pretty much over.
By contrast, some parts of Michigan got more than predicted, as snow wrapping around the storm’s northern edge blew in from southern Canada.
Kirk Lombardy, another National Weather Service meteorologist, said the storm rapidly diminished west of the Appalachian Mountains during the afternoon when a second low-pressure center formed off the mid-Atlantic coast and robbed the original storm center of much of its strength.
That often happens with storms as they approach the coast, but not always, Mr. Lombardy said, citing the Blizzard of 1978 as one that was strong enough to stay intact as it crossed Ohio and headed northeast toward the St. Lawrence Valley.
Blizzard or not, the snowfall was still the first of the season and the region’s first major snowfall since early 2011. For some, that was enough to get excited about.
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“[It’s the] first snow, plus we didn’t get to do this at all last year,” said Ryan McDougall, 13, who conquered the Taft Avenue sledding hill in Port Clinton with his brother Mason McDougall, 11.
Winds that kicked up snow into their faces didn’t seem to bother the two brothers, who plowed down the hill and engaged in a snowball fight at the bottom. They were joined by others who didn’t want to miss the opportunity.
“It’s pretty brutal, really,” said Mike Wiechers of the wind and snow pelting his face and forming ice balls on the legs of his dog, a bichon frise named Bella. Mr. Wiechers came to the hill with his grandson Mason McCarl, who was visiting for the holiday for the week; Bella, and his other dog, Dolly, a Yorkshire terrier.
“It came in fast, right out of the northeast,” he added, explaining how the storm picked up in the 45 minutes since they arrived at the hill. “But it’s a special treat. This is the first chance the kids have had, and they were lucky enough that it hit over the school break.”
Blustery wind wasn’t enough to keep Gunnar Geiger, 12, of Columbus from lacing up a pair of rented skates and heading out onto the outdoor ice at the Ottawa Park rink, accompanied by nearly a dozen relatives. Gunnar, a hockey player, was in Toledo visiting relatives.
“I’m excited to skate outside because I’ve only skated outside [twice],” he said, noting that skating on outdoor rinks is different from indoors because of the weather’s variability.
Toledo transportation officials braced for the worst but soon found regular manpower levels sufficient to keep major streets clear.
“We brought crews in at 3 a.m. to get plows ready and we pretreated streets with salt to be ready for rush hour,” Deputy Mayor Steve Herwat said. “As always, we had a plan in effect to bring in additional people to handle residential streets if the storm was bad enough.”
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Traffic crashes in the city were widespread enough for police to suspend response to minor, noninjury accidents. County sheriffs across northwest Ohio strongly urged people to avoid discretionary travel, though none forbade it. Parking restrictions were imposed in several communities, including Bowling Green and Dundee, Mich.
Northbound I-75 was closed for about an hour in North Toledo early in the afternoon after a pickup truck and tractor-trailer collided near the I-280 junction, causing the big rig to jackknife and spill diesel fuel. The pickup driver was ticketed for failure to control.
Jackknifed semis blocked state Rt. 25 north of Bowling Green during the day and U.S. 20 in eastern Fulton County for about an hour Wednesday evening, but no injuries were reported. Several injuries were reported in a multivehicle crash earlier in the day on the Ohio Turnpike in Fulton County, but no other details were available.
But most crashes were of the slide-off or fender-bender variety, authorities said.
“There are accidents everywhere, but nothing serious,” a Monroe County sheriff’s deputy said.
Wood County Sheriff Mark Wasylyshyn said motorists going too fast on slippery roads were to blame for many crashes.
“That’s the hardest thing to get people to do: to drive for the conditions, meaning driving slowly enough to maintain control of their vehicles,” the sheriff said.
In Sandusky County, snow cover on four-lane U.S. 20 east of Fremont gradually prodded motorists into the right lane both ways.
“What’s really hurting us is the blowing,” Sandusky County Sheriff Kyle Overmyer said Wednesday afternoon. “That’s what’s really starting to hurt the visibility, and the roads are extremely slippery.”
“The wind is the real problem. We were just saying, ‘It’s too bad it just can’t snow,’ ” Hancock County Sheriff Michael Heldman agreed as the storm advanced.
Wednesday night, Ottawa and Erie county officials reported a few extra deputies out on the roads and responding to vehicles off the roads and in ditches, but said the storm was far tamer than expected.
“It’s a heavy snow, but the ground was warm enough that I think that was our saving grace,” Ottawa County Sheriff Steve Levorchick said.
The storm’s dire forecast prompted Hollywood Casino Toledo to close several of its dining rooms in anticipation of reduced business. Megabus canceled afternoon bus services through Toledo, Hancock County closed its government offices at noon, and Herzing University-Toledo canceled classes after 1 p.m. The Ohio Turnpike prohibited triple-trailer trucks, motor homes, boat and horse trailers, and other high-profile vehicles vulnerable to wind, after 11:30 a.m.
But with schools out and many businesses still closed for the Christmas holiday, the storm’s impact on traffic was blunted to begin with.
Some who ventured out had been happy with the absence of accumulating snow up until then.
Amy Richardson, 46, of Toledo headed to Westfield Franklin Park mall to redeem some gift cards but stopped first in the food court. Her verdict on the snowstorm was simple: “Hate it. Don’t like winter at all.”
For others, it was a soup kind of day, as shoppers later in the day stopped in for staples — and ingredients for what sounded good — at Community Markets in Port Clinton.
“I just decided I wanted a special soup,” said Marita Martin of Lakeshore Drive as she left the store with bags filled with goodies to make ham and bean soup with cornbread. She said she and her husband, who live on Lakeshore Drive off the Lake Erie waters, were ready at home for whatever came.
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Stan Lee of Lacarne, Ohio, had the same idea, stopping in on a work break for milk, butter, and potatoes to make potato soup.
“It goes good with the ham the day after [Christmas],” he said.
“We were slammed earlier,” the store’s liquor manager, Brad Knopp, said of the morning hours before flakes flew. “We had three registers going, plus people were backing up.”
Customers snapped up the usual staples: “bread, milk … and beer,” Mr. Knopp said. “It’s great for us. It’s the grocery manager’s favorite weather forecast.”
And at the Ace Hardware in downtown Findlay, which received some of the region’s heavier snow — as much as 6 inches — winter supplies flew off the shelves.
“We’ve been bombarded,” a store employee said.
Staff writers Jennifer Feehan, Ignazio Messina, Federico Martinez, Vanessa McCray, and David Patch, and correspondents Lisa Swickard and Tom Fullen contributed to this report.
Contact Roberta Gedert at: email@example.com or 419-724-6081.