A strong weather system blew a heavy snowfall into the area on Sunday, causing a Level 3 snow emergency and basically shutting down the Toledo area, closing almost all schools and most businesses.
By late Sunday night, the National Weather Service said 8.2 inches of snow already had fallen throughout the day at Toledo Express Airport, to be followed by up to 2 more inches and an unusual blast of bone-chilling cold air for two days.
A Level 3 emergency was declared for Lucas County early in the afternoon, taking effect at 5:30 p.m. Sunday, prompting widespread closings, schools to shut down for today, people to stay inside, and the city to resemble something of a ghost town.
Franklin Park Mall closed at 4 p.m. And — bet you didn’t expect this — Hollywood Casino Toledo, a place normally open 24/7, closed for the night at 4:30 p.m. Betting will resume after the Level 3 snow emergency is lifted.
It was serious business for crews battling the elements, trying to keep scraping blades ahead of the steady snowfall Sunday afternoon and then into the night.
PHOTO GALLERY: Snowstorm hits Toledo area
RELATED: School delays and closings
Forecasts of wind chill readings of 30 to 40 degrees below zero in the coming days sent a shudder throughout the region. Shivers of concern were raised not only for people, but for pets and plumbing.
Homeless shelters welcomed clients who were grateful to get in out of the chill.
“I was outside tonight about two and a half hours walking up and down the sidewalk trying to keep my feet warm,” said Charles Busch, 77, of the Perrysburg area as he sipped coffee inside the “winter crisis” facility at St. Paul’s Community Center, 230 13th St. in downtown Toledo. He said the manager took pity and opened the doors a half-hour before the normal 7 p.m. start. A dozen people were lodging at the winter crisis center as of 8:30 p.m.
Mr. Busch said he’s been staying at motels, with friends, and in the Cherry Street Mission since September when he was evicted from a trailer he lived in.
A handful of power outages were reported in the Toledo Edison Co. service area, primarily near Fremont. The utility said it had 142 customers without service Sunday evening, and most were expected to be restored within hours of the outages.
With motorists in Lucas County under warnings to stay indoors and with a couple of good football playoff games to watch, social media seemed to be the only place to go, with many folks posting photos, comments, and more about the winter storm, some debating whether indeed it was worthy of all the hype and the closing of stores, libraries, and the University of Toledo, to name a few. More than one area resident scoffed at any comparisons of this winter storm to the Blizzard of '78.
Although weather worries drifted deep, people were playful with their Snoledo quips and with their actions Sunday as snowmen, in various forms, were built; as children trekked to sledding hills, and as forts were formed and snowballs tossed.
I-475 was eerily empty at 5:45 p.m. and snow trucks working downtown Toledo streets had to compete with only the occasional motorist as they tried to keep the streets passable.
As of 10 p.m., Lucas, Fulton, Henry, Defiance, and Williams counties were under Level 3 emergencies. Hancock County declared a Level 3 just before 7 a.m. today.
Lenawee County Sheriff Jack Welsh issued a travelers advisory that roadways are snow-covered and slippery and that motorists should use caution.
Rain and snow
Jay Berschback, chief meteorologist at WTVG-TV, Channel 13, said the range of snowfall varied from rain in Tiffin to a reported foot of snow in Hillsdale County. He said the wind will blow the snow into drifts that will force closure of some roads today.
“The crews will do their best but probably won’t be able to keep up with the snow blowing back over the roads, especially west of Toledo,” Mr. Berschback said.
He said the cold blast will drive temperatures down potentially to as low as 17 degrees below freezing on Tuesday morning, or even lower, bringing Toledo close to the record of -20 degrees that was recorded in January, 1984.
”Usually it warms up through the day but tomorrow it’ll be falling,” he said Sunday night. “The push of cold air is strong enough that it overcomes any warming we have. Blowing snow, drifting, low visibility, and wind chills starting tomorrow — it’s not good. It’s going to make for a tough go.
“Tuesday morning may come close to the all-time record of January, 1984, of 20 below. I'm forecasting minus-17,” he said. That’s before the wind chill, which will make it feel like minus-35 or minus-40.
A “polar vortex” air mass will affect nearly half of the continental United States starting Sunday and into today and Tuesday, with wind chill warnings stretching from Montana to Alabama.
The bitterly cold temperatures already pushed into northern states earlier Sunday. The National Weather Service reported a temperature of -9 in Bismarck, N.D., and minus-21 at Duluth, Minn.
A polar vortex is a cyclonic air feature that normally rests over northern Canada, according to the National Weather Service. It is being displaced unusually far south, providing “for an incredibly strong surge of bitterly cold arctic air along with gusty winds.”
Kirk Lombardy, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Cleveland, said temperatures were already at 5 degrees in western Indiana at 10:30 p.m.
“All that cold air is coming in along with the wind,” Mr. Lombardy said.
At The Andersons on Talmadge Road in West Toledo, patrons continued to shop despite the afternoon and evening snow. Several shoppers were nonplussed by the weather, amused at the response that prompted so many shoppers to clear out shelves of basic necessities.
“I do not believe in the whole end-of-the-world theory,” said Charles Newcomb, 42, who drove from Point Place to The Andersons in the afternoon with children Lauren, 6, and Gabriel, 11, and girlfriend Kay Zaleski for a few items, such as coffee and carryout chicken paprikas noodles from Tony Packo’s. They did defer enough to the storm to buy an extra meal’s serving.
“We went to Kroger last night just to people-watch. People were spending money as if they were going to be holed-up for three months,” Mr. Newcomb said. He said the weather does not appear likely to rival the famous blizzard of ’78.
Mall shut early
At Franklin Park Mall, trucks worked to clear the parking lots to be ready when the shopping destination reopens today at 2 p.m., with closing planned for 9 p.m.
Melanie Corrigan, 20, of Toledo, an employee of Aerie store in the mall, and a couple of co-workers cleared the snow from their car windows.
“It was pretty slow,” said Ms. Corrigan of business inside the mall. “I would suggest for people to just stay home because it’s not safe to drive. You can barely even see.”
City officials were taking no chances.
The Level 3 emergency was decided on by city and county emergency officials in a noon meeting at the city’s Division of Streets, Bridges, and Harbor on Central Avenue.
Stay off roads
The warning means most people are prohibited from driving on Lucas County streets; those who ignore the order could be arrested. There are exemptions for emergency personnel, health-care and essential employees of critical infrastructure facilities, and news media.
The announcement was issued through Toledo Mayor D. Michael Collins.
Forecasts seen by city officials projected a snow event not seen in Toledo since the 1978 blizzard, Mr. Collins said. The city would do everything possible to mitigate the impact of the storm, but neighbors should help each other, he said.
"We in the community need to be a community," Mr. Collins said.
Neighborhood streets may not get plowed for several days, said Dave Welch, commissioner of Streets, Bridges, and Harbor division.
Bill Franklin, Toledo's new director of public service, said road crews “were keeping up as well as expected” in the face of a snowfall that dumped 8 inches within several hours.
“It was very difficult because [the snow] was very intense over two hours, when the intensity of the storm approached 2 inches an hour. It was that extreme,” he said.
In comparison, the previous storm left 10 inches of snow over several days, which allowed crews to clean streets relatively quickly, he said.
“When it comes down in a shorter period of time, there's just no match for it,” he said.
Lots of equipment
Sunday night the city had 125 pieces of equipment on the streets, some of which included private contractors.
A normal snowfall would have 38 city-owned vehicles, he said.
“We probably could use 500 trucks,” Mr. Franklin said.
Staff writers Nolan Rosenkrans and Jim Sielicki contributed to this report.
Contact Tom Troy at: email@example.com or 419-724-6058.