Drivers appeared to be complying with the Level 3 warning in Toledo as blowing snow and darkness fell on what authorities feared will be one of the harshest winter storms seen in years.
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.
Toledo Express Airport received 8.2 inches on Sunday.
As of 6 p.m., Lucas and Defiance counties were under Level 3 emergencies and Fulton, Henry, and Williams counties at Level 2. Still at Level 1 status were Hancock, Wood, Ottawa, and Seneca counties.
PHOTO GALLERY: Snowstorm hits Toledo area
RELATED: Read tweets below from Blade reporters and readers about today's weather. Join the conversation using #Snoledo
Lenawee County Sheriff Jack Welsh issued a travelers advisory that roadways are snow-covered and slippery and that motorists should use caution.
The National Weather Service was predicting definite snow only until 11 p.m., after which the prediction dropped to likely and a "chance of snow" starting at 2 a.m.
More concerning is the expected cold, with lows around 7 degrees, and wind chills taking it down to minus-8 during the night.
LEVEL 1: Roadways are hazardous with blowing and drifting snow. Roads may also be icy. Motorists are urged to drive very cautiously.
LEVEL 2: Roadways are hazardous with blowing and drifting snow. Roads may also be very icy. Only those who feel it is necessary to drive should be out on the roads. Contact your employer to see if you should report to work. Motorists should use extreme caution.
LEVEL 3: All roadways are closed to non-emergency personnel. No one should be driving during these conditions unless it is absolutely necessary to travel or a personal emergency exists. All employees should contact their employer to see if they should report to work. Those traveling on the roads may subject themselves to arrest.
Chances of snow continue Monday with temperatures expected to fall to about minus-2 degrees by 5 p.m. and wind chills down to minus-28. The cold is projected to continue Tuesday with wind chills as much as minus-42.
Announcements of school closings Monday were widespread, and included Toledo, Maumee, Perrysburg, Washington Local, Sylvania, Central Catholic, and the Toledo Catholic elementary schools.
Church events that were planned for Sunday afternoon and evening were canceled early in the day, and businesses that normally stay open later into the evening closed early, including Franklin Park Mall and Hollywood Casino Toledo.
One exception was The Andersons on Talmadge Road in West Toledo where a moderate level of patrons continued to do their shopping, at least until the store’s planned 7 p.m. closing.
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.
At the mall, snow plow trucks worked to clear the parking lots even as employees were heading home following the mall’s 4 p.m. closing.
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.”
The mall will delay opening until 2 p.m. Monday and close at 9 p.m. A mall spokesman said patrons can check the mall's Facebook page for later updates if conditions warrant.
A “polar vortex” air mass will affect nearly half of the continental U.S. starting Sunday and into Monday and Tuesday, with wind chill warnings stretching from Montana to Alabama.
The bitterly cold temperatures already pushed into northern states earlier today. The National Weather Service reported a temperature of 9 below zero in Bismarck, N.D., and negative 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."
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.
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.
Snow accumulation could total 12 inches in some parts of the area. There were about 125 total vehicles plowing streets, including large city trucks, smaller city plows, and contracted vehicles. If the snow falls as quickly as city officials predicted, crews would have a tough time keeping up with plowing just the main roads.
Neighborhood streets may not get plowed for several days, said Dave Welch, commissioner of Streets, Bridges, and Harbor division.
A handful of power outages were reported in the Toledo Edison Co. service area, primarily in the Fremont area. The utility said it had 142 customers without service Sunday evening, and most were expected to be restored by 9 p.m.
AEP, the other major utility serving northwest Ohio, reported no outages.
Consumers Energy Co. and DTE Energy, which service southeast Michigan, reported no power outages Sunday evening.
Blade reporters Nolan Rosenkrans and Jim Sielicki contributed to this report.
Contact Tom Troy at firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6058.