The Arctic blast that made its way into northern Ohio over the latter part of the weekend can be deadly, and the sheriff of Wyandot County is urging residents to stay indoors if possible through the sub-zero temperatures.
With a wind-chill this morning of negative 38 degrees and temperatures below zero, Sheriff Mike Hetzel continued the Level 3 snow emergency that was issued at approximately 12:24 p.m. Monday. That means only emergency personnel is allowed on Wyandot County roadways.
Much of the region was under a Level 3 snow emergency this morning, while Allen and Erie counties downgraded to Level 2 snow emergencies before daybreak.
The Level 3 snow emergency in Wyandot County was to continue until at least 9 a.m., Hetzel said.
Snow plows and emergency crews began a busy Monday morning under no snow emergency in the county. At about 8:30 a.m., Hetzel said the county would remain without a snow emergency level.
That changed quickly as roadway conditions diminished due to double-digit negative temperatures, high winds and blowing snow contributing to reduced visibility, Hetzel said.
At 6 p.m., Hetzel updated the media on the Level 3, saying it would be maintained through the morning hours today.
“We want people to stay safe,” Hetzel said Monday evening. “There are roads in the west part of the county that are impassible, but the majority of roads (in Wyandot County) are open. But you have to slow down.”
Hetzel said the sheer temperature and weather conditions were enough to maintain the Level 3 snow emergency. It was less a concern for poor roadway conditions than for the low temperatures.
Hetzel said this morning the snow emergency could remain in effect until about 2 p.m. unless drifting continues.
“If some of the side roads are clean and passable … by 9 (a.m.), it’ll be light and all the entities will be able to pass through the roads by then,” he said. “We’ll probably list (the snow emergency) until 2 p.m., but once again, the main crux of that was the sheer cold and wind blowing.”
He urged residents to check on their neighbors, family members and elderly in their areas.
“We can try to check on them if you’re unable to,” Hetzel said. “Communicate; look after each other and your neighbors. For those of them in the county that use their heads, we certainly appreciate it. It’s a great help. One thing that was a detriment to us, (Monday) after we did the level, it was really for the wind, temperature and visibility. We ask people not to call the (sheriff’s) office. We had 83 calls within an hour of issuing the level. That overwhelms the communications for the people who have emergencies. … If your road is snow-covered and blowing, the rest of them probably are, too.”
He lauded the state, county, township and municipal highway offices for an “exceptional job.”
“It’s winter. Take extra precautions,” Hetzel said. “Warm your car up (ahead of leaving). Dress appropriately in case the car breaks down. Stay with your vehicle for safety reasons. Make sure you have a cellphone that is charged and put extra supplies, such as blankets, into your car to help you stay warm. … Open skin in just a couple of minutes is extremely dangerous. Drive with caution.”
The western part of the county is the most treacherous, the sheriff said, especially the intersection of U.S. 23 and TH 65 in the Harpster area. Two tractor-trailers spun in the area Monday, while numerous vehicles went into ditches in that area, Hetzel said. No injuries were reported.
“The northern part of the county is basically clean and dry, but the southern part is not,” he said. “Local people need to just be cognizant of the roadways in their area. Watch for drifting and use extreme caution because it is extremely slippery. A lot of people want to go to work. They should check with their employers. … People need to use common sense. The majority of people do and we certainly appreciate that. There’s others that just don’t get it.”
Hetzel spent Monday conferring with officials from the Wyandot County office of the Ohio Department of Transportation, the county highway department and the Emergency Management Agency.
Before issuing a Level 3 snow emergency, Hetzel said winter driving conditions should be anticipated by residents during cold months. But as the temperature continually dropped throughout the day, Hetzel said the danger posed to motorists was too great.
“If you have a problem with your car and you have to get out, unless you’re dressed for the Arctic, you have two minutes and you’re done,” Hetzel said. “… We are encouraging people to stay inside.”
Under a Level 1 snow emergency, roadways are hazardous and icy, with blowing and drifting snow. Motorists are advised to drive very cautiously.
A Level 2 snow emergency means roadways are hazardous, and only those who feel it is necessary to drive should be out on the roadways. Employees are advised to contact their employers to see if they should report to work under a Level 2.
All municipal and county roadways are closed under a Level 3 snow emergency. No one should be out during these conditions unless it is absolutely necessary to travel. All employees should contact their employers to see if they should report to work, and those traveling the roadways may subject themselves to arrest.
Sheriffs of Ohio established the guidelines, according to an Ohio Attorney General’s Office opinion, and the sheriff of a county may declare a snow emergency and temporarily close county and township roads within his or her jurisdiction for the preservation of the public peace.
Residents may get road condition information online, including at www.buckeyetraffic.org.
All schools in Wyandot County are closed today. The Wyandot County Courthouse closed early Monday and will be closed today, and many businesses followed suit.
By ALISSA PAOLELLA