Winter storm dumps a pile of road hazards across center of the country

| 12/23/2004

Most folks want a White Christmas. But for OOIDA member Gary Dale of Seymour, MO, there was a little more white Thursday morning than he was hoping for.

Dale was one of the many drivers who were immobilized by a massive winter storm that hit the center of the nation. His truck, along with numerous other vehicles, was trapped on Interstate 64 in Indiana.

The Weather Channel reported that a huge swath of the Midwest was hit by the storm Wednesday night and Thursday morning, leaving more than 2 feet of snow in some areas, as well as ice on the roads and subarctic cold.

For Dale and other truckers trying to finish runs by Christmas Day, it became a paralyzing force, freezing them into place for an interminable period of time – in Dale’s case, 16 hours.

But after all that waiting, it wasn’t Indiana state snowplows that came to Dale’s rescue. It was a band of local farmers, who bladed the road with their tractors till it was passable.

Once they were able to move, the vehicles headed to Poseyville, IN, a small town in the far southwestern corner of the state, northwest of Evansville. Firefighters from the town had come out to make sure that the truck drivers and motorists were OK, and once they made it to town, an officer opened a local school to provide shelter and a place to get something to eat.

“The state of Indiana was not supporting them one bit; they were out there on their own,” Dale said. “That whole city of Poseyville went out of their way to come out there and make sure that everyone is OK.”

Dale said that long after the farmers were through, state plows finally showed up.

All the vehicles were able to make it to Exit 12, where state officials turned them around and sent them back the other direction, and hopefully out of the reach of the storm. Dale’s company told him to head home with his load so delivery could be scheduled later.

Dale said he won’t get paid for the extra miles, “but I get to go home – I’m not complaining.”

The storm was accompanied by gusty winds that have caused significant drifts. In the Great Lakes area, that wind is generating more of the region’s much-feared “lake effect” snow. The storm affected the Ohio Valley, southeastern Missouri, southern Indiana, northern Kentucky and much of Ohio.

Indiana officials, who reportedly closed 30 miles of I-64, were not alone in blocking access to portions of the interstate system, leaving vehicles stranded as even more snow came down. Kentucky also closed part of I-64, shutting down traffic in both directions west of Louisville. The Associated Press described the stretch of closed road in Indiana as a “frozen parking lot.”

The Indiana Department of Transportation said it put more than 1,000 snowplows on the road in attempt to get a handle on the situation – 59 in Marion County alone. Some highways were pretreated with salt brine before the storm began in an attempt to prevent as many problems as possible.

“Central Indiana could receive as much as a foot of snow by Thursday night,” Indiana DOT officials said in a news release Thursday, Dec. 23. “Southern Indiana could receive up to 18 inches of snow. With snow expected to continue throughout the day and winds expected to increase, motorists should be prepared for blowing and drifting snow.”

The Kentucky Transportation Cabinet listed a host of alerts regarding winter road conditions Thursday morning on its Web site, noting numerous accidents, including a six-car pileup and disabled semis blocking several roads. Snow and freezing rain were noted on Interstate 71, I-75, and on roads in a long list of counties that included Anderson, Mercer, Boone, Campbell, Kenton, Bullet, Hardin, Jefferson, Carroll, Gallatin, Grant, Owen, Pendleton, Franklin, Oldham, Shelby, Nelson and Spencer.

The Ohio DOT showed snow and ice on the road Thursday in more than half the state’s counties. More than a third reported severe snow and ice conditions, as well as drifting over the roadways.

Meanwhile, Dale said, I-64 is still shut down between Exit 12 and Exit 57 late Thursday afternoon. State patrol officials told him it could take one to three days to reopen the road.

Exit 12 is at Poseyville, and Exit 57, ironically, is just northwest of the town of Santa Claus, IN.

– By Mark H. Reddig, associate editor