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Published: Thursday, 2/15/2007

Big snowstorm leads to a big dig in Toledo area; nearly 9 inches fell

BY DAVID PATCH
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Northwest Ohio and southeast Michigan dug out yesterday from a Valentine s Day massacre of a snowstorm, which officially dropped 8.6 inches at Toledo Express Airport and up to a foot in areas south and east of the city.

Unofficially, blowing and drifting snow from blizzard conditions piled the powder up more than twice that high in some places around the area. Drifting remained a significant hazard in rural areas into last night, but no storm-related fatalities were reported.

Most area government offices and many area businesses were closed yesterday along with all the area s schools and universities. Students in many cases were joined at home by their parents, who were prohibited from travel, told to stay home by employers, or had no choice because many area day-cares were also closed.

Popular alternatives to sitting at home including the Toledo Zoo, COSI Toledo, Toledo-Lucas County and other public libraries, and even Westfield Franklin Park and Levis Commons shopping malls were also closed.

By early afternoon yesterday, however, conditions were dramatically different from 24 hours earlier. The dark gray skies and steady snowfall gave way to brilliant sunshine that bathed the fresh carpet of white.

Transportation officials credited the sunshine with helping road-clearing efforts. Snow emergency travel restrictions that had been imposed across most of northwest Ohio overnight were gradually relaxed over the course of the day. Only Seneca County continued to be under the most-restrictive Level 3 ban against travel for anyone other than emergency response personnel, essential health care workers, and those employed by the media.

In Hancock County, where emergency status was reduced to a Level 2 advisory yesterday afternoon, Sheriff Mike Heldman estimated snowfall amounts there ranged between 8 and 10 inches. He said he was impressed by how few vehicles he saw on the roads.

It s amazing. You drive down these county and township roads and people s driveways are still full of snow and their cars are sitting there, Sheriff Heldman said. I think everyone stayed home and snuggled today. We ll probably have a baby boom in about nine months.

Today s weather will be defined by near-zero cold in the morning and high temperatures in the low teens, the National Weather Service said. Snow flurries or snow showers are possible, but significant accumulations are not expected.

Scott Hickman, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service office in North Webster, Ind., said that while other storms in the region s recent past have produced more snow, the blizzard conditions that occurred at times distinguished this most recent one.

For a few, the storm brought back memories of the Blizzard of 1978, when three straight days of snow and high winds halted virtually all outdoor activity in the region.

But Mr. Hickman said the Jan. 26-28, 1978, blizzard was much worse than Tuesday. Several fatalities occurred in the storm 29 years ago and National Guardsmen ultimately were summoned to help with the dig-out.

I don t think there is even a comparison. The winds [in 1978] were much stronger 50, 60 miles an hour, he said.

Meteorologists define a blizzard by sustained winds typically 30 or 35 mph for at least three hours and poor visibility from snow, though the snow can be blowing as well as fresh precipitation.

This much is certain about the winter storm Tuesday into early yesterday: it was this winter s biggest thus far and the largest snowstorm since Dec. 8-9, 2005, when 9.2 inches fell.

National Weather Service spotters yesterday reported 12 inches of snow in Van Wert, 11.5 in Defiance, 11 in Lima, 10 in Fremont, 9 in Norwalk and Hicksville, Ohio, 7.5 in Sandusky, 7 in Monroe, and 4 inches in Adrian and Litchfield, Mich.

A storm summary issued by the National Weather Service office in Cleveland showed even heavier snowfall totals elsewhere across the state, including 17.5 inches in Galion, Ohio, along a swath from Columbus to Cleveland. Another band of heavier snow stretched westward from Mercer County, Ohio, into east-central Indiana.

Walter Fitzgerald, a meteorologist at the NWS Cleveland office, said snow in some areas was likely to be considerably deeper than the reported amounts because of drifting.

St. Charles Mercy Hospital, St. Luke s Hospital, and Flower Hospital each reported a handful of emergency room visits yesterday from people who began experiencing chest pains while shoveling snow.

11-year-old Blake Rudolph, left, and Robert Herroon, 10, help clear snow from a neighbor s Whitechapel Street driveway.
11-year-old Blake Rudolph, left, and Robert Herroon, 10, help clear snow from a neighbor s Whitechapel Street driveway.
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TARTA bus service was not interrupted because of the winter storm, but drivers did deviate from some routes because of snow on the roadways.

The drivers did a great job, they took it slow, and we were able to keep moving, TARTA General Manager Jim Gee said.

Findlay radio station WFIN, whose transmitter tower was blown down by high winds on Tuesday, returned to the air at about 11:30 a.m. yesterday using a long-wire antenna as a temporary fix.

U.S. 224 was blocked east of Tiffin for most of the day yesterday by a tractor-trailer that stalled on a hill, then slid backwards and jackknifed into a snowbank.

Seneca County engineer James Nimz said the wind was the biggest enemy of road crews, And while most county roads had at least one lane passable by 3:30 p.m., Mr. Nimz urged caution even after the eventual relaxation of a travel ban.

There s still a lot of caution needed and some real serious thinking about people going out, Mr. Nimz said.

Jack Sterling, Wood County s assistant road superintendent for Wood County, said east-west county roads were particularly vulnerable to drifts.

Andrea Voogd, an ODOT spokesman in Bowling Green, said blowing and drifting snow was a continuing problem yesterday for state crews, too, but the brilliant sunshine that broke out over the region as the day progressed helped with ice control.

We are battling that wind, she said. You can have a truck go through, and then the wind shifts and the drifting comes in from another direction.

David Welch, Toledo s commissioner of streets, bridges, and harbor, agreed that the afternoon sunshine was a big help.

Pat Ferris shovels his driveway on Robinwood Avenue in Toledo s Old West End.
Pat Ferris shovels his driveway on Robinwood Avenue in Toledo s Old West End.
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Once you get that dark pavement heating up, it goes the extra mile in melting snow the plows leave behind, he said.

At 4 p.m., Mr. Welch said most of the city s main arteries routes were in good shape and about 60 percent of the city s total street network had been plowed at least once. But Mr. Welch conceded that also meant that 40 percent of the city s streets hadn t been touched by a city crew or contractor, and that some lesser streets plowed early in the storm needed more attention, too.

Some of them have surely blown over and will have to be done again. We ll be working on this for another day or so, the commissioner predicted.

A Level 3 snow emergency that remained in effect in Lucas County until 2 p.m. helped significantly with the snow removal effort, Mr. Welch said, as did downtown Toledo s near-deserted status during the day because most office workers stayed home. Nearly empty downtown streets offered lots of room for plows and high-loaders to build huge snow mounds at major intersections that were then hauled away in dump trucks to a vacant lot in North Toledo.

With most people staying off the roads, we were able to run our trucks in tandem and get a lot of work done, he said. Downtown, we usually have to do all that work at night.

Sue McCloskey, the vice president of AAA Northwest Ohio, said most motorists were complying with the snow emergency travel restrictions.

Fortunately, we are seeing a lot of people staying off the roads, so that is helping with the emergency situation, Ms. McCloskey said.

The auto club reported assisting 50 disabled or stranded vehicles during the morning hours throughout the region. Later in the day, it resumed providing jump-starts and other calls for non-road emergencies.

A Toledo man involved in a minor accident on the Anthony Wayne Trail at I-75 was ticketed both for failure to control his vehicle and for failure to comply with the weather-related Level 3 travel ban in effect for Lucas County at the time.

Toledo police said a car driven by Adam Aridi slid out of control after entering the Trail from southbound I-75 and struck a police cruiser that was waiting with a disabled car on the roadway. No one was injured in the 8:30 a.m. accident, which damaged a body panel on the cruiser.

Police officer Dave Hartsel climbs onto a pile of snow to reach the top of a car in downtown Tiffin. Once there, he left a parking ticket as a reminder to the owner.
Police officer Dave Hartsel climbs onto a pile of snow to reach the top of a car in downtown Tiffin. Once there, he left a parking ticket as a reminder to the owner.
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Two fifth-year students from the University of Toledo said they couldn t remember a full day of classes being canceled because of snow.

We re going to try to find something we can sled on because we have no sled and then go sledding, Kelly McGarrigle, 23, said enthusiastically.

It s pretty exciting to have a day off in the middle of the week, agreed T.J. Russell, 22.

Nick Russo a UT Latin professor and Latin teacher at St. Francis de Sales High School helped clear snow for his 90-year-old neighbor, Wendell Benak, who was using a snowblower.

Mr. Russo, 58, planned to spend the rest of yesterday working on his taxes, doing some school work, and playing his trumpet.

Andy Ratermann, 22, a UT accounting senior, was shoveling his driveway while his housemates slept.

I ve shoveled this driveway probably five times and they haven t shoveled it once, Mr. Ratermann said. He expected to work on a group project later in the day, then take his girlfriend out last night for a Valentine s Day and birthday dinner if it was safe to drive.

Michael Mancy, co-owner of Mancy s Steakhouse in Toledo, said he had business last night.

I have an hour wait, he said. The restaurant had to close for lunch because of the Level 3 driving restrictions, but the evening crowd was about as expected.

At Georgio s Cafe International downtown, co-owner Chris Kamilaris said most of the reservations had come in as well as some walk-ins. We didn t lose as much as we thought [despite] a few cancellations.

While morning flights at Toledo Express Airport were canceled because the planes used for them had not arrived Tuesday night, authorities said normal operations had resumed by mid-afternoon.

Amtrak trains continued operating through Toledo, but were more than six hours late yesterday because of snow, ice, and stalled freight trains along the Norfolk Southern main line across northern Ohio.

Rudy Husband, a Norfolk Southern railroad spokesman, said highway conditions had forced suspension of van service to get crews to and from trains, which was contributing to delays.

A ground wire that snapped in the wind and cold on Water Street in Toledo was blamed for a power failure that struck downtown and the city s north end at about 7:30 p.m. Tuesday and left about 10,000 customers in the dark for nearly three hours.

Gary Keys, an area manager for Toledo Edison, said power was restored by rerouting and permanent repairs were completed yesterday.

Staff writers Jennifer Feehan, J.C. Reindl, Ignazio Messina, Homer Brickey, and Christina Hall contributed to this report.

Contact David Patch at: dpatch@theblade.com or 419-724-6094.



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