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With Toledo's latest snowstorm retreating to the east, Lucas County Sheriff John Tharp has reduced the county's emergency status to Level 2 for a second time, effective 3:30 p.m. today.
A Level 3 weather emergency, which carries a ban on all non-essential travel on streets and highways in the county, had been in effect since 9 a.m., and had previously been posted from 11:30 p.m. Tuesday until 5:30 a.m. today.
Starting at 7 a.m. Thursday, the City of Toledo will enact a snow parking emergency to aid with snow removal.
This means parking will be banned on streets that are posted, in addition to residential streets,TARTA bus routes, and other emergency routes. Those who violate the order could be cited or have their cars towed.
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Sheriff Tharp defended the two morning changes, which became the target of widespread complaints on his office's Facebook page, in emails to The Blade, and elsewhere, on the basis that snow in the county unexpectedly intensified after the initial drop in the alert level.
"What I was concerned about was the whiteouts out in Jerusalem Township," said the sheriff, who spent parts of the day driving county roads. "The roads were not passable. I was really concerned about somebody getting killed out there."
The change was particularly vexing for people who took children to day care centers in the morning before going to work, only to be called by those centers to retrieve their children after the new Level 3 alert was announced.
"I feel horrible that people then had to go turn their lives around," Sheriff Tharp said about that decision, but he maintained that road conditions became significantly worse during the morning rush.
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"I didn't expect to be dumped on during the day. We expected the heavier snow to go to our north. It changed on us -- the weather changed," he said.
Hourly precipitation reports from the National Weather Service's reporting station at Toledo Express Airport backed up the sheriff's contention that snow became heavier after the alert was relaxed. Snow fell at a rate of close to an inch per hour between 6 and 9 a.m. after being less than half as heavy during the previous four hours.
As of 1 p.m., the snowfall total at the airport was 6 inches, although as much as 10 inches reportedly fell elsewhere in the Toledo area, according to measurements from Ohio Department of Transportation maintenance garages in the state's northwestern district.
Ottawa County will decrease to a Level 2 emergency at 4 p.m. Seneca, Hancock, Wood, Henry, and Sandusky counties are at a Level 2 snow emergency as of 3 p.m.
Defiance County planned to downgrade from a Level 3 to a Level 2 at 5 p.m., according to the sheriff’s office. Fulton County also went to a Level 2 shortly after 3 p.m.
As a result of the storm, boards of election in Henry, Fulton, Wood, Lucas, and Ottawa counties extended the filing deadline for the primary ballot by a day.
The deadline was 4 p.m. today, but office closures due to snow caused the deadline in those counties to extend to 4 p.m. Thursday. The boards of election in Sandusky, Seneca, and Lucas counties remained open today.
If the office closes for any part of the day, the Secretary of State's Office said the filing deadline will be extended until Thursday.
Nearly all area schools closed today and, because of the inclement weather, a number of agencies and other government offices closed down.
Because of the early-morning confusion in Lucas County, the county courthouse doors were locked and the building declared “closed” despite the fact that court proceedings, for the most part, continued as scheduled.
“Thank you for braving the weather today,” Judge Gary Cook told one defendant whose case was called for a review of his community control.
When the next defendant on the docket didn’t show up as scheduled, the judge pushed the hearing back a week rather than issue an arrest warrant for his failure to appear.
“With his history of always reporting, I will give him the benefit of the doubt today,” Judge Cook said.
Some courtrooms were dark, their staffs sent home, yet in three others, civil trials proceeded as planned. The clerk of courts office remained open until 1 p.m. when the snowfall had stopped and Clerk of Courts Bernie Quilter let his staff go home
“To release everyone when we went to Level 3, once we were all here, would’ve been more risky for our employees,” Mr. Quilter said.
Other offices closed soon after the Level 3 was declared. The marriage license bureau closed, and the minister on duty left when he realized there would be no weddings to perform.
Not enough grand jurors made it downtown so a grand jury could not be convened.
The courthouse already has been closed for three days this year due to weather.