By JOHN KLINE
THE GOSHEN NEWS
A snow emergency declared by Elkhart County officials early Sunday evening remained in effect Monday as frigid sub-zero temperature coupled with strong wind forced the county to a near standstill.
According to Elkhart County Emergency Management Director Jen Tobey, the snow emergency as written is scheduled to be in effect until 6 p.m. Wednesday. However, there’s a chance it could be lifted sooner or extended further depending on how the weather shakes out.
“We’re going to have some discussions about that later on this afternoon,” Tobey said during a phone interview Monday, noting that such a decision involves communication between her department as well as the county highway director and county sheriff, who in turn must make a recommendation to the Elkhart County Board of Commissioners.
“Our highway director is out right now and he’s having some issues with the wind and the drifting,” Tobey continue. “We have all of our trucks out and all of the people we’ve contracted with for snow removal are out, but we want to give them a few more hours before we make any decisions either way.”
As if the frigid temperature wasn’t enough, Tobey said, frequent wind gusts are continuing to cause problems with drifting snow, forcing snow removal teams to replow roads within hours of having plowed them before. That, in turn, is causing delays in the plowing of more rural roads and county subdivisions.
“Right now there are some subdivisions that haven’t even been touched,” Tobey said. “We received a report from the highway director that he plowed a road at 11 a.m., and by 1 p.m. it was closed again. So about every two hours they’re having to replow them.”
Tobey said that for some county residents who live near more populated areas, the situation can seem less dire than it actually is, as buildings often help to block wind and thus reduce the amount of snow drift which leads to so many problems along wide-open county roads.
“If you’re in an area with buildings, it may still be slick, but the roads often appear clear,” Tobey said. “But out in the county, we’re still pretty challenged.”
Keeping that in mind, Tobey was quick to urge county residents to continue to heed the snow emergency and stay home and off the roads. Doing so, she said, will help to keep people safe while at the same time keeping the roads clear for emergency traffic and snow removal teams.
“It’s still a declared emergency, so the roads are really for emergency traffic only right now,” Tobey said. “Everybody else should be off the roads unless its an emergency situation.”
Over at IU Health Goshen Hospital, Public Relations Manager Melanie McDonald indicated that while all of the hospital’s outpatient and physicians’ offices were closed Monday due to the weather, operations at the hospital itself were unaffected.
“Everything is functioning at the hospital, surgeries are going forward, etc.,” McDonald said. “So the weather has only affected our physicians’ offices and outpatient services, and last night they called all of the people who had appointments scheduled so they knew not to come in.”
Another hospital spokesperson who declined to give her name described a “pretty normal day today” in the hospital emergency room.
“We haven’t seen a ton of patients in the ER today,” she said. The spokesperson indicated that while ER staff saw quite a number of flu sufferers last week, the flu wasn’t much of an issue Monday.
Open for business
For his part, Goshen Mayor Allan Kauffman indicated in a statement Monday that baring unforeseen circumstances, city government offices will be open Tuesday.
“Elkhart County Commissioners will be determining later today how they may continue or modify the county-wide snow emergency,” Kauffman said. “Presuming they will limit driving in unincorporated areas (on county roads) and leave discretion to cities whether to restrict driving, Goshen city government offices will be open on Tuesday. If county officials prohibit driving on county roads, even to/from work, we presume some employees living outside the city of Goshen will be absent from work.”
Kauffman said Monday afternoon that for the most part, streets within the city limits appeared to be in pretty good condition, adding that many parking areas in Goshen’s downtown have been successfully cleared.
“We are still asking residents to use common sense, driving only when absolutely necessary, and commuting to/from work as employers determine need,” Kauffman said. “Goshen police officers will not write tickets if county restrictions apply only to county roads.”
Kauffman also said that many vehicles are still snowed in along city streets. As such, he urged city residents’ cooperation in digging their vehicles out and moving them off the street wherever possible so plows can widen travel lanes.
Looking forward to what may be in store for the area weather-wise Tuesday, meteorologists Monday were predicting a high of 6 with continued wind and snow showers for much of the day coupled with dangerous wind chills once again approaching -40. Moving into Tuesday night, wind chills are expected to reduce to approximately -15, with a low near 0. The chance of snow Tuesday night is reported to be approximately 10 percent.
Several school corporations in The Goshen News’ readership area were closed due to the weather Monday, and will remain so Tuesday.
School will not be in session at the Goshen, Fairfield, Wa-Nee, Westview, Wawasee and Concord school corporations, nor at Bethany Christian schools. Tuesday is designated as a teacher records day at Middlebury Community Schools, and students will not attend school.
State of emergency
The dire weather was a focus for Indiana officials Monday. Gov. Mike Pence said he would sign an executive order declaring emergencies for at least 25 of Indiana’s 92 counties following a powerful snowstorm that dumped more than a foot of snow in some areas Sunday and Monday and delivered the coldest temperatures in two decades.
Pence warned residents that traveling posed “real peril” because of poor road conditions and dangerous wind chills that could linger for 36 hours.
“If you can stay in today, stay in all day today,” he said at a Statehouse news conference. “People need to understand that this is a very serious and very dangerous storm and despite the sunshine it continues to be just that.”
On the transportation front, it was announced that the South Short commuter rail line will resume regular service on Tuesday between Michigan City and Chicago, but will use buses to transport passengers between South Bend and Michigan City.
South Shore officials had canceled all service Monday because of the weather. Spokesman John Parsons says the service will resume Tuesday with a train scheduled to arrive in Chicago at 5:43 a.m. that day.
He says the Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District decided to use buses between Michigan City and South Bend because the overhead power system between those two cities is old and subject to failure during extreme temperatures.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.