Tuesday, February 18, 2003

Storm puts Tristate on ice

It's slow going on roads as salt runs low

By Tom O'Neill
The Cincinnati Enquirer

The most perilous storm of the year continued to grip the Tristate Monday, leaving one local traveler dead, hundreds stranded, thousands without electricity and several communities scrambling for more road salt.

Waves of snow and sleet also caused a number of universities to close, some for the first time in years.

Closings & delays
Weather forecast, radar
Traffic conditions
Snowfall totals varied widely throughout Greater Cincinnati, and in many places the bigger danger was ice.

Today, the melting starts. With temperatures expected to hit the low 40s today and low 50s by Thursday, according to forecasters, flooding is a growing concern, although it's too early to tell how much.

"We had a half-inch of ice accumulation in the Cincinnati metro area Saturday night and Sunday," said meteorologist Myron Padgett of the National Weather Service in Wilmington, Ohio.

Snow fell hardest in Butler and Warren counties, where some communities have gotten up to 8 inches since the storm began Friday night.

Still, Greater Cincinnatians were luckier than Ohioans in the central and eastern parts of the state. Gov. Bob Taft declared disasters in three southern counties: Scioto, Meigs and Gallia.

Many schools and most government offices were already closed Monday for Presidents Day, which alleviated rush-hour traffic and made snow removal a bit easier.

The weather forced many universities - including the University of Cincinnati, Xavier, Northern Kentucky University, Ohio State and Ohio University - to close Monday. The last time UC cancelled classes was "probably 10 years ago," said university spokesman Greg Hand.

"We draw from a pretty wide area," he said. "With the Level 3 alert in Clermont and Butler counties, it was going to make it pretty hard for our students to drive in, not to mention faculty and staff."

Miami University in Oxford was closed for the holiday.

Wind-blown snow led to poor road conditions and low visibility throughout the Tristate.

Those conditions may have contributed to a fatal accident shortly after midnight Sunday. Birane Ba, 33, of Lockland was killed on Interstate 71 near Wilmington, the Ohio State Highway Patrol said Monday.

His vehicle struck a tow truck that was assisting a stranded motorist at 12:10 a.m., police said.

In Boone County, Florence police closed southbound I-75 for about an hour Monday morning because of a hazardous materials spill from a tractor-trailer crash.

Farther to the north, snow piled even deeper. The Wilmington area had 10 inches, and Columbus got 14.5. But only 4 inches fell in Cleveland.

Hamilton and Clermont counties got 3 to 6 inches, and northern Kentucky about 1-2, Hickman said.

The storm all but halted operations at Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport this weekend and Monday. Hundreds of travelers trying to connect through Delta Air Lines' hub here were stranded.

"We got here at 6 a.m. this morning, and it looks like we'll be here all night," Cindy Wang of Philadelphia said Monday. "But we're trying to stay calm, even though this is the first time either of this have been through anything like this."

Delta had canceled more than 25 percent of its schedule system-wide, primarily flights to the East Coast and Mid-Atlantic states.

The airline canceled about 47 departures and 43 arrivals mid-afternoon Monday, representing one-third of a normal day's schedule.

Comair had scratched 54 departures and 78 arrivals, or between 17 percent to 24 percent of its daily schedule.

Tree limbs weighed down by ice hit power lines, leaving 6,000 Cinergy customers in Erlanger and Florence without electricity after service there Sunday had been restored, company spokeswoman Kathy Meinke said.

The only other area still without power Monday afternoon was Ripley, along the Ohio River in Brown County, Ohio, where 123 customers had no power, she said.

Pendleton County officials opened an emergency shelter at Pendleton County High School Sunday night because of extensive power outages there. The shelter remained open Monday.

The bad weather also has drawn down salt supplies in some Tristate communities.

West Chester Township, for one, is out of road salt and officials aren't sure when the maintenance department will receive a shipment that was ordered late last month, Trustee Catherine Stoker said Monday.

Salt wholesalers, too, are running out, she added.

"I talked to (Township Administrator) Dave (Gully) Sunday morning, and he said they had just enough salt left for one load per truck and were going to hold off on that until this morning," Stoker said.

"I understand Blue Ash is lacking salt and most communities are running out," she said. "Most communities have dumped almost twice as much as they used last year.

"Everyone is working as hard as they can to clear the roads, but we've kind of got one arm tied behind our backs," she said. "So it would behoove people to really be careful out there. They really shouldn't be traveling if they don't have to."

Liberty Township was nearly out of salt, too, Trustee Bob Shelley said. Another delivery is expected later this week.

James Pilcher, Sheila McLaughlin, Erica Solvig, Cindy Schroeder, Kevin Aldridge and Jennifer Edwards contributed to this report.

E-mail toneill@enquirer.com

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