Ohio motorists warned as storm moves in

DAN SEWELL Associated Press Published:

CINCINNATI (AP) -- Strong winds and heavy snows whipped across Ohio roads, causing closed lanes and emergency travel warnings, and grounded some flights Wednesday as a major storm system pushed through on its way to the Northeast.

Dozens of flights at airports from Dayton to Cleveland were canceled or delayed, with more expected as some 900 flights nationwide were canceled. Cleveland Hopkins International Airport spokesman Todd Payne cautioned travelers to check with their airlines.

Early indications were that day-after-Christmas mall traffic was down, too, with people holding off in the weather on returning that ugly sweater or other unwanted gifts.

"I can't feel my feet, and the ice is hurting when it hits my face," said Tracy Flint, a Columbus hair stylist, who was trudging across a shopping center parking lot to get to work. "But it could be worse."

The National Weather Service posted blizzard warnings for a swath of Ohio from the Indiana border stretching northeast to the Lake Erie region. After an unusually mild winter last year, the storm was a reminder of how the state can get pounded this time of year. Forecasters expected snow to pile up as much as 10 inches in the Dayton region and Cincinnati's northwest suburbs.

"This is a typical winter storm you would see most winters," said Myron Padgett, a forecaster in Wilmington, in southwest Ohio.

In Darke County, in western Ohio, the sheriff's office issued a Level 3 snow emergency, which bars all but emergency traffic. Authorities said blowing and drifting show cut visibility to near zero, and they were getting calls from motorists stranded in rural areas. A Level 3 also was issued in another western Ohio county, Mercer.

In nearby Preble County, Interstate 70 heading west toward Indiana was closed temporarily early Wednesday afternoon while a traffic accident was cleared, and Columbus police officers closed westbound I-70 near the capital later in the day to give salt crews time to clear ice off the lanes.

However, Ohio State Highway Patrol Lt. Anne Ralston said no fatalities from accidents had been reported by mid-afternoon. The Patrol urged drivers to increase their following distances and give themselves extra time to reach their destinations.

Marian Lebron of Cleveland went out early Wednesday to buy oil for her snow blower and replace a couple of lights that had gone out on her car, then returned home and prepared to hunker down. Two to three inches of snow had fallen by mid-afternoon with forecasters calling for much worse conditions later.

Lebron, 53, a telecommunications company project manager, said she can work at home if needed. She said she's not a snow person, but was ready to do whatever was necessary to make it through the storm, including braving the elements with her snow pants, snow blower and shovel.

"I'm kind of like, 'Bring it on,'" she said.

The AAA service reported its busiest Wednesday of the year in the Greater Cincinnati region, responding to more than 300 member calls for tows, jump starts and other help by early afternoon.

Sheriffs in several other western Ohio counties issued road travel warnings, and authorities urged people to give trucks with salt and snow plows room to work on the highways. Several spots already had three to five inches by late morning. The snow was expected to end in the evening, with freezing temperatures remaining.

The state's largest military base, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base near Dayton, shut down operations because of the storm.

The Ohio Department of Transportation said it pretreated major highways in anticipation of ice and heavy snow. Traffic was slow, but moving, in most of the storm-hit areas.

Agencies in several counties, including Franklin and Cuyahoga, closed because of the weather. Clark County authorities in Springfield said road conditions were so hazardous that county transportation services would be provided only for essential medical needs, such as people getting dialysis treatments. The Greater Cincinnati Homeless Coalition said a winter shelter would open Wednesday evening at a downtown church to make sure people had a warm place to sleep.

Not everyone was impressed.

"If this is the worst of it, that's OK," said Thadd Fiala, 38, walking his dog in downtown Cincnnati. "I grew up in Michigan. The worst Cincinnati could do would be a normal day there."

And in nearby Lawrenceburg, Ind., Chip Perfect of Perfect North expected the snowfall's aftermath to bring in more skiiers to the resort during the holiday period.

"For us, the timing's good," he said.


Associated Press writers Julie Carr Smyth, Kantele Franko, Ann Sanner, Andrew Welsh-Huggins and Mitch Stacy in Columbus, Amanda Lee Myers in Cincinnati and Rick Callahan in Indianapolis contributed.


Contact Dan Sewell at http://www.twitter.com/dansewell