INDIANAPOLIS, Indiana | DMN – Indiana Governor Mike Pence has declared a “state of disaster emergency” for 29 counties affected by the severe weather that began on Sunday. “As a result of the severe snowstorms, extreme cold and dangerous wind conditions that have impacted counties across Indiana, I have declared a state of disaster emergency in the 29 counties that were most affected by the storm, and the State of Indiana stands ready to assist Hoosiers as needed,” said Pence in a news release issued this afternoon. “We will continue to respond to this serious winter storm and evaluate its impact on other Indiana counties going forward.”
The 29 counties are: Clinton, Delaware, Elkhart, Fulton, Grant, Howard, Jasper, Kosciusko, LaGrange, Lake, LaPorte, Madison, Marshall, Montgomery, Newton, Noble, Porter, Pulaski, Rush, St. Joseph, Starke, Steuben, Sullivan, Tipton, Vermillion, Vigo, Wabash, White, and Whitley. During an earlier press conference at the Statehouse, Pence praised local first responders, plow drivers, state police and National Guard for clearing roads and aiding Hoosiers in bitter temperatures he characterized as possibly the worst in 20 years. He warned, though, that dangerous conditions continue and people should stay in their homes to remain dry and warm.
“Our first word today is this continues to be a very dangerous storm. If people can stay in, and can stay home — they should stay home,” he said. “That allows our public safety personnel, our highway crews and local law enforcement and local transportation efforts to go forward in an unimpeded way. “But if people go out, I think it is important that they use common sense.” Across the state, there were 46,500 residents without power, more than 20 road closures and 52 travel warnings, officials said during the press conference. Several hundred people were also in shelters today. The Indiana State Police had around 300 troopers working today and more than 250 members of the Indiana National Guard had fanned out across the state to assist motorists, medical transfers and other needs.
At least 67,000 people in central Indiana lost power during Sunday’s winter storm or in the brutally cold aftermath Monday, and it won’t be restored for some for at least another day. As of 6:45PM EST, Indianapolis Power and Light reported almost 23,000 still without power in it’s coverage area. Duke Energy reported more than 8,000 without power in Indiana, 6,238 were in hard hit Hamilton County just north of Indianapolis.
Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard and other city officials decided to soften travel restrictions in the wake of a winter storm and in the midst of the extreme cold, but Ballard stressed the danger is not over. In a news conference Monday morning, Ballard said the Marion County travel advisory would be changed to “orange” status beginning at noon on Monday. Even though the road status has improved, Ballard said companies should rethink the threat of firing workers who stay home due to the weather, and he said he still wants people to stay off the roads if possible, due to the dangerously low temperatures. “The wind chill is 40 below. You can die in 10 minutes if you’re not properly clothed,” he said.
Many of Indiana’s schools, businesses and municipal offices were shuttered Monday, and some planned to remain closed Tuesday, after the storm dumped up to 15 inches of snow and 35 mph wind gusts drifted some roads shut. Ballard said that about 400 people were in shelters set up by the city to give people refuge from the biting cold. Road conditions in Indianapolis were generally fair, considering the circumstances. Road crews have been able to plow many streets, and the interstates have also been plowed, but snow remains on the roads. Ballard said it was too cold for salt to be effective on the roads Monday morning, but he said crews started using salt again as the sun came out later in the morning.
Ballard said he’s now most concerned about the bitter cold air, the coldest in 20 years, now affecting the city. “It’s the cold that really scares us. We can always clear away the snow,” Ballard said. “Just a few minutes outside, people will be affecting by frostbite, they’ll get numb and they may not even know that they’re getting frostbite.” Ballard issued the city’s first red level travel warning since a blizzard paralyzed the city in January 1978. He lifted that ban at noon Monday, but said he wanted schools and businesses in the city to remain closed through Tuesday until the worst of the severe cold had passed.
Doug Carter, Indiana State Police superintendent, said the dangerous roads and subzero temperatures was hurt in citizens across the state. “I think they are in fear of what could come, particularly in regards to power,” he said. State Department of Homeland Security will assess today if more counties should be included in the state emergency declaration. “This obviously lays a foundation for us to seek federal assistance and a federal emergency disaster declaration. I am not at a place now where I can tell you or not if we qualify for that. But the snow totals are approaching record level in many communities.”
Department of Homeland Security will determine the impact midweek to assess whether a federal declaration will be sought, Pence said. Karl Browning, Indiana Department of Transportation commissioner, said while some roads were cleared of snow it could be until Wednesday for the packed snow and ice to melt away. Surface temperature needs to rise to 20 degrees for melting salts to work. “We will continue to have the snow pack, which is drivable. But it is also dangerous,” he said. “When the temperature starts to freeze up again over night we have the risk of ice forming and that will create additional slick spots.”
12,400 airline flights were delayed today according to FlightAware.com with more than 4,200 cancelled. 66% of the flights at Indianapolis International Airport were cancelled…65% at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport. There are already almost 1,300 cancellations across the country tomorrow.