Vigo County Commissioners on Thursday declared a local disaster emergency, and they issued winter storm and travel warning that will continue through noon Friday.
A travel warning is the highest level advisory, meaning that travel may be restricted to authorized personnel only. Citizens are encouraged to refrain from all travel, comply with necessary emergency measures, cooperate with public officials in executing emergency operations and to obey and comply with law enforcement directions.
Additional snow along with that already blowing and drifting was expected to reduce visibility and make travel difficult for motorists Thursday evening, with some roads potentially becoming impassable.
Sullivan County also issued a “level red” travel advisory through noon today, as road conditions deteriorated considerably Thursday afternoon. Level red restricts travel to emergency services and essential workers only.
According to the National Weather Service, six inches of snow Thursday had descended upon Terre Haute as of 4 p.m.
Prior to the county declaring the travel warning, Mayor Duke Bennett said the Terre Haute Street Department was “doing pretty well” as the snow continued to fall Thursday: “The ongoing snow and the wind are a problem — they’re the biggest obstacle now.”
Bennett said the roads should be largely cleared today. “When the snow stops, we’ll be able to have a bigger impact,” he said. “We’ll have all night to work on it, and the roads will be in much better condition tomorrow.”
Larry Robbins, county engineer for the Vigo County Highway Department, agreed, but he said single-digit temperatures with the wind chill make this a battle.
“[Friday], we’ll get mostly everything open and, by evening, everything should be back to normal,” he said.
For County Commissioner Brendan Kearns, who drove a plow for 12 straight hours Thursday (“very nerve-racking,” he said), the day’s theme was, “If at first you don’t succeed, plow, plow again.”
Said Kearns, “I work the rural areas, and then I come back in 20 minutes, and they’re covered up again. Guys are constantly doing their routes.”
Since people were largely heeding officials’ advice to avoid the roads, Kearns said, “Plowing has been easy because there have been fewer cars on the road. It was a good call to close all the county buildings — people have stayed off the roads and there have been fewer slide-offs.”
Given Thursday’s success with closing Vigo County buildings, all county offices will be closed again today.
Though the winter storm continued to dump snow and gusts of wind on the area on Thursday, a few intrepid businesses managed to open their doors to a trickle of customers.
In the Meadows Shopping Center, only three businesses were open on the main floor, including the new Ace Hardware that had its soft opening on Monday only to be besieged by inclement weather two days later.
“It’s pretty slow,” said owner Steve Guernsey. “We’re looking forward to not having the weather we’re having, but we’re open because we’re here for the community and if they need something, we will have it for them.”
Guernsey said despite the paucity of customers, his employees still had plenty to do.
“Since we just opened, there’s still a lot of things to do before we get to our grand opening,” he said. “They are looking at price changes that need to happen, they’re working on computer issues we had, they’re receiving product that hadn’t been received yet — just a lot of tasks to do. We’re actually working on all the things that didn’t get done before we opened.”
Likewise, Baesler’s Market opened its doors to the public, though it did close at 7 p.m. Thursday out of concern for its employees’ safety.
“It’s actually been busier than we expected, but for a normal day, it’s about half what we would have normally done,” said store manager Casey Baesler, who added that under the circumstances, simply being open is a form of customer service.
“That’s the main reason for being open … (to) make sure we take care of our customers that weren’t able to get out and get food before,” he said. “Obviously, there are a lot of restaurants and places closed that maybe people didn’t count on or plan for. They’ll still need to eat something, so we wanted to stay open for a little while today.”
Businesses should enjoy a little more traffic today, and motorists will enjoy better road conditions, as no snow was forecast after 1 a.m. today.
In other developments:
• The weather contributed to an accident on I-70 near in Putnam County involving multiple semis. No injuries were reported, but the freeway was shut down for a couple of hours.
• Reach Services’ warming center at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church, 215 N. 7th St., will remain open through Monday. Hours are from 6 p.m. to 8 a.m. with an evening meal and breakfast provided. Those needing transportation to the warming center can call 812-546-1458.
• Union Health closed all Union Medical Group offices, Convenient Care Eastside, Outpatient Therapy in Clinton, Pediatric Therapy, Physical Therapy East at One Professional Plaza, Physical Therapy South at Thomas Plaza and the Wound Healing Center on Thursday. On Friday, it will close all Union Medical Group offices, Convenient Care Eastside, Convenient Care Downtown, Outpatient Therapy in Clinton, Pediatric Therapy, Physical Therapy South at Thomas Plaza, Hux Oncology, 2nd floor, Hux Rheumatology, Neurology, UMG Pain Clinic, Cardiovascular Surgery, UMG Cardiology, Dr. Sakbun’s office, Brazil Family Medicine, the Clay City Center for Family Medicine, Rockville Family Medicine and the Wound Healing Center. The Wabash Valley Surgery Center will be open.
• The Hamilton Center Parke County facility was closed, though appointments took place remotely. All other facilities were open.
• The Indiana Department of Health announced that all state-run COVID-19 testing and vaccination clinics will be closed today.
• Today will be an eLearning day for Vigo County and Clay County community schools. Extracurricular activities and events, including all practices, will not take place.
• The Terre Haute Humane Society was closed to the public, although the animals were taken care of.
David Kronke can be reached at 812-231-4232 or at [email protected]tribstar.com.