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Published: Sunday, 1/23/2005

Foot of snow edges area closer to January record

BY TOM HENRY
AND ERICA BLAKE
BLADE STAFF WRITERS

We're headed for an all-time January snowfall record.

The 12 inches of snow recorded at Toledo Express Airport as of 6 p.m. yesterday ballooned this month's total to 26.6 inches, unofficially making this the second snowiest January on record behind 30.8 inches in 1978.

At 8 p.m., it was still snowing, with predictions of more on the way tomorrow and Wednesday.

But unlike the area's recent ice storm, when thousands of people were without power for days, and the more recent flooding that forced others to evacuate their homes, no such problems were reported.

Few traffic mishaps were reported yesterday as snow fell so hard in the morning that visibility was down to a few feet with whiteouts in open areas where the wind was blowing hard.

But motorists did get stuck, and almost every law enforcement agency said personnel assisted stranded motorists.

By 6 p.m., the Ohio Department of Transportation reported state highways in 80 counties were snow-covered, with ice on bridges and ramps. Roads were listed as wet in eight counties.

In ODOT District 2, based in Bowling Green, 103 trucks were plowing and salting state roads in eight counties.

"The wind has not been as bad as what was originally anticipated," Joe Rutherford, ODOT spokesman, said. "We're only seeing 25 mph winds, which is a whole lot better than 30 to 50 [mph]. The farther away you get from cities, the worse the road conditions get."

Road conditions will improve today, he said.

On the Ohio Turnpike last night, snowplows, along with motorists traveling the toll road, were battling blowing and drifting snow, which kept lanes wet, a dispatcher at the highway patrol's Berea post said.

The area's nonstate primary roads, including those in Toledo, were in places clear and in other places covered with snow. Many side streets in Toledo were clogged with snow.

At Toledo Express Airport, few flights other than cargo-only ones occurred before the weather started to settle down about 1 p.m., said Brian Schwartz, a spokesman for the Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority, which operates the airport.

"You really couldn't call it normal operations, but they got passenger flights back by mid-afternoon," he said.

Officials tried to de-ice planes and taxi them out to the runway in the morning. But by the time they were ready to take off, their wings were thick with snow. The pilot of one Northwest flight, for example, returned to the gate with a plane of passengers because he didn't feel comfortable taking off, Mr. Schwartz said.

Some American Eagle flights were canceled or postponed because aircraft due from other locales had to be reassigned to other areas, he said.

The weather also caused numerous flight delays and cancellations at Detroit Wayne County Metropolitan Airport.

At one point air traffic controllers were evacuated from the top of the tower at McNamara Terminal because of fumes from cleaning chemicals, said Michael Conway, airport spokesman.

Greyhound bus lines shut down the Detroit-to-Cleveland route that operates via Toledo, along with most services east of Cleveland. Yesterday's storm caused scores of activities to be canceled - from athletic competitions to college-entrance exams and church services to events at area bars.

But it allowed for other events, which at times turned dangerous.

Four people escaped with their lives yesterday after the vehicles they were using to travel on Ottawa River ice plunged into the freezing water in two unrelated incidents. No one was hurt, Washington Township police said.

Three people, whose names were unknown to police, were traveling on a snowmobile about 2 p.m. near the boat launch on Hammond Drive near Shoreland Avenue, about 100 feet from the shore when the ice gave way and the vehicle plunged into the water. By the time rescuers arrived, the people had left.

A short time later, Keith Laginess, of Luna Pier, who police said is in his early 20s, was driving an all-terrain vehicle on the river ice near the Summit Street bridge when the vehicle fell through and sank. Mr. Laginess managed to get back on the ice without help, Sgt. Ken Bowman said.

Meanwhile, Louise Johnson, 49, called Mother Nature's recent mood swings "insane."

Shoveling her driveway on Navarre Avenue, Ms. Johnson said that what was not too long ago a flood in her front lawn turned to ice and then snow within days. Knowing she had several hours of shoveling ahead of her - she never got around to buying a snowblower - Ms. Johnson said she layered up and mentally prepared for an afternoon of hard work.

Friends Michael Joyce and Michael Fench found themselves with little to do yesterday after their basketball league was canceled because of the snow. So they bundled up, grabbed a shovel, and headed to the city's east side to see if they could help some seniors clear their driveways - and make a few dollars at it as well.

"I'm hoping this is the last of the snow," said Mr. Joyce, 22, who layered himself in clothes for the walk from the city's north side. "Now we're just helping out the community a little bit."

Bridgette Duvalle, 12, and her cousins, Christy Adams, 10, and Ryan Adams, 12, glowed red from the wind as they took a break from sledding on the hills at Waite High School on Front Street. After about an hour, they'd had enough.

"We're pretty cold," said Bridgette, who along with her cousins attends St. Thomas Aquinas School. "But I really like winter because there's a lot to do in the snow."

Sledders who went to Pearson Metropark in Oregon found a closed gate. Park Ranger Tracy Gallagher said the park was closed about 11 a.m. after Oregon Mayor Marge Brown declared a Level 3 emergency for the city's roads. It was rescinded at 5:30 p.m.

For others, it was a day to hunker down at home and watch the falling flakes, then brace for the bitter chill that hit last night with winds ranging from 20 to 45 mph. Combined with single-digit temperatures, that produced wind chills of 10 to 15 below zero.

The National Weather Service is calling for a high of 18 degrees today, a low of 10 degrees, and winds between 10 and 15 mph.

Blade staff writers Mike Sigov and Mark Zaborney contributed to this report.

Contact Tom Henry at: thenry@theblade.com or 419-724-6079.



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