The amount of snow, blistering wind and sub-zero temperatures caused residents to stay indoors, but once it became bear- able parents and children had fun out- doors – once they shoveled out.
How did Noblesville and Hamilton County manage last week’s snow, winds, ice and cold?
The foot of snow was manageable but when compounded with blistering wind and subzero temperatures, last week’s winter storm will go down as one to remember for several years. The storm closed businesses, schools, airports and even government.
It took three days to return to business as usual in Noblesville. Mayor John Ditslear had to close the city offices and buildings on Jan. 6 and 7 because it was not safe for his employees to be out.
“Drifting has been a problem. It coming across the streets makes it difficult,” he said.
The salt and brine mix the city spreads on roadways does not have an effect when temperatures were as low as they were early last week. Another issue with clearing roadways is cul-de-sacs.
“There are 500 in the city, which makes it especially challenging,” Ditslear said.
While there were a few slide-offs, Noblesville had no major personal injury or property damage accidents during the storm.
Ditslear said the city’s closing of two days should have little impact because conditions also caused closures for businesses and construction.
“Waiting two days shouldn’t affect projects,” he said. “Yes, it is an inconvenience, but it’s so bitterly cold.”
Ditslear said the storm was “so unusual” that the city hired additional contracted plowing services. The financial impact on the city is not yet known.
“It’s our responsibility to keep people safe,” said Ditslear. “I’m proud of our street department. They have worked 24/7 for four straight days.”
Hamilton County government offices and courts also returned to normal on Jan. 8 after being closed for two days. Hamilton County Commissioner Christine Altman said the last time she could remember the county being closed for multiple days was approximately six years ago during a storm around Valentine’s Day.
“We’ve been lucky. It’s Indiana, it snows,” she said.
Altman said the biggest impact of the closure was on the county court system.
“Court dates have to be rescheduled,” she said, adding that all those affected were notified. “Normal operations will absorb those costs and salt, sand and overtime for crews and maintenance.”
County plows are working 12-hour shifts and continued through Jan. 12.
“The main problem has been north-south roads drifting,” she said.
Altman thanked the dedication of employees and said all essential personnel came in when needed.
“When we’re closed, we’re not really closed,” she said. “There’s a lot of need when we open the emergency operational center.”
Non-essential county employees will be paid for their lost days at work at regular rates, according to Altman. She said the commissioners discussed years ago the subject of not paying employees or having them use personal days during snow emergencies.
“We don’t want to put employees in harm’s way or (have them) sliding off and being an impeder for first responders and plowing,” said Altman. “We didn’t want them choosing between having to lose pay and risking safety.”
Altman said conference calls were made sometimes four times a day involving all jurisdictions and departments.
“It’s really nice to see how everybody has come together. Ideas came up that were implemented,” County Commissioner Mark Heirbrandt said.
The Hamilton County Emergency Operation Center served as the headquarters of the county’s combined efforts and brain trust during the storm.
“Seven years ago this room didn’t exist,” said Tom Sivak, Hamilton County Emergency Management Agency executive director.
Sivak said the center focused on situational awareness and resource coordination.
“The operational center opened because of the extreme cold,” he said. “It was a bigger event than we thought.”
“It’s very dynamic. We have all the players in the same room. All are able to stay on the same page and work together,” Sheriff Mark Bowen said.
Duke Energy worked with the operation center and provided information to local officials on areas without power for welfare checks.
“It was the first activation to this level,” Sivak said. “Immediately we can help manage everything.”
While the county EMA might play “Monday Morning Quarterback,” Sivak said no items fell through the cracks or were forgotten thanks to planning and coordination.
“We’re never satisfied. With activations like this we are able to learn,” he said.
It was a very challenging 96 hours for the county, according to Bowen. Even after the snow ceased, winds died down and temperatures rose, law enforcement was dealing with roads that Bowen described as “snow-covered, icy and treacherous.”
As of Jan. 7, more than a dozen property damage crashes were reported and more than 100 slide-off crashes were investigated. Bowen said that number climbed in the days following the county’s downgrading its travel advisory.
“There are a lot of slide-offs and property damage accidents because of more people being out,” he said, adding there have been no major incidents in the county.
Another major issue for first responders was residents calling 911 for information and not emergencies.
“Other callers came in just to help with general information,” Heirbrandt said.
Heirbrandt said the calls were nonstop during his time at the county dispatch center on Jan. 7.
“They were on the phone left and right,” he said.
Residents seeking information were asked to call the non-emergency dispatch line at 773-1282.
“It ties up the lines and could mean the difference between someone able to get in with an emergency call or not,” Bowen said.
Caring for the elderly …
Meals on Wheels Hamilton County Executive Director Beth Gehlhausen said direct contact was made with their clients to ensure no one went hungry after the weather caused the organization to cancel food deliveries on Jan. 6 and 7.
“We let clients know about the situation and checked on them,” Gehlhausen said, adding road conditions and driver safety caused the cancelation.
Every fall the organization provides four emergency meals that can be eaten out of the container or warmed up. Gehlhausen said the packages are prepared by professionals and distributed in case of emergencies like this.
“Most of our folks keep things on hand. We deliver meals Monday through Friday so most have cereal and milk and items that are easy to prepare,” she said.
In addition to making sure clients had food, Meals on Wheels checked on their living conditions.
“Some clients might not be in the best homes. We want to make sure they know how they can get some help,” Gehlhausen said.
… and the animals
Executive Director Rebecca Stevens said the Humane Society of Hamilton County did “pretty good” with the limited staff and volunteers who could make it in during the storm to make sure the more than 250 cats and dogs in their care were clean, fed, walked and warm.
“Every animal received the care and love it needed,” she said. “We have the best staff and best volunteers around.”
In addition to caring for pets under her supervision, Stevens said the most important thing for the public to remember during cold weather is to keep pets inside.
“With temperatures as frigid as they are, a dog house doesn’t matter. That’s not enough. Any bowl of water outside is going to freeze. If it’s too cold for you to be outside, it’s too cold for them,” she said.
Schools granted relief
Schools forced to cancel classes due to winter weather last week will not have to make up the days. The Indiana DOE informed schools that they will not have to make up classes canceled on Jan. 6 and 7 if they submit a waiver. Noblesville Schools was closed Jan. 6 through 9. Jan. 6 was supposed to be a professional work day for staff members, with Jan. 7 slated as the day students were to return from winter break. The closings delayed the start of the district’s second semester.
“We will apply for a waiver day for Tuesday. Unless the state extends the waiver offer to additional days missed, schools will have to make up days missed beyond Tuesday at the end of the school year, beginning the first Monday in June,” Noblesville Schools spokeswoman Sharon Trisler said.
Shelter response minimal
Three different emergency shelters were open during the storm. Carmel High School was the first; Sivak said 12 people used the shelter its first night and no one was there when it closed. Four took advantage of the Fall Creek Intermediate School shelter in Fishers on Jan. 6. Each closed a day later, on Jan. 7.
Shelter – four the first night, 12 in Carmel – none when it closed
On Jan. 7, the first collaborative shelter in Hamilton County opened at the 4-H Fairgrounds. The idea came from Tom Rogers, animal control officer, to offer a site for residents and their pets. Sivak said Red Cross staff assisted people and CERT and Hamilton County Animal Control cared for pets.
“It was a reality; people weren’t leaving because of their pets,” Sivak said. “Those without power have gone more than 12 hours or longer. Temperatures could be as low as 23 degrees.”
Bowen said he has mixed feelings about the public’s response to the emergency shelters.
“I’m not altogether surprised to find there are a lot of generous people in the community. They have other options and means to spend nights in hotels,” he said. “Folks who need help, don’t be afraid to ask. There are resources out there.
Hamilton County experienced a major upswing in power outages reported by Duke Energy on Jan. 6, when nearly 6,000 homes lost power in the early evening – many in the Fishers area. The weight of the snow and ice caused concerns for structures, trees and power lines within the county. Mark LaBarr of Duke Energy said energy consumption was so high in homes that had power that it was stressing equipment and affecting how quickly outages could be repaired.
“During extreme weather conditions – we use a lot of energy, cool in the summer or warm in the winter. We’re experiencing that now,” he said.
Hospitals stay alert
Despite the subzero temperatures, Riverview ER Physician Bill Bean hasn’t seen severe cases caused by the winter weather.
“Fortunately, I’m not aware that we’ve had any hypothermia cases,” Bean said. “We certainly worry about that with these conditions. Frostbite is more commonly seen. It’s certainly something we’re dealing with this week.”
Bean said frostbite can occur for various reasons, and typically a lot of them are unplanned exposures by getting stuck in vehicles outside or exposed unintentionally after losing power.
“Occasionally it’s because they don’t respect or have the self-concern related to going out and don’t take precautions for exposure for a result in injuries,” he said.
Bean said falls pick up once people get outside because the temperatures are improving.
“There are still slick points on sidewalks and roads – slick spots will be there until they are completely melted,” he said. “That’s when we really see falls; everyone is back up and around and forgetting to use caution.”
Bean offered this advice to help stay out of the ER: “Put extra gloves and blankets in your car – it takes time before an ambulance gets to you.”
Feeling the effect
• Republic Services could not pick up trash on Jan. 6 and 7 and offered double pickups this week for residents who were missed.
• The City of Noblesville Common Council organization meeting was rescheduled from Jan. 6 to Jan. 9.
• The Hamilton East Public Library-Noblesville branch forgave overdue fines during its closure.
• A Travel Warning was in effect for county roads north of Ind. 32 until Jan. 7 while a Travel Watch was declared for roads south of Ind. 32. County highway workers described north-south roads in the northern part of the county as problematic, with blowing and drifting snow covering roadways soon after they were plowed.
Mother Nature unkind
According to the National Weather Service, the following snow totals were reported in Hamilton County on Jan. 6: Westfield, 13 inches; Carmel 12 inches; Noblesville, 10.5 inches; Fishers, 10.1 inches and Cicero, 9.5 inches. The highest amount listed was Tipton, with 15 inches.
After the snow came harsh Arctic winds and temperatures remaining steady below zero. Jan. 6 was the coldest day in central Indiana since Jan. 16, 1994. It was so cold that -10 degree temperatures combined with 20 to 30 mph wind made a person susceptible to frostbite in under 10 minutes.