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02-17-03: Slip sliding along
High winds blow through Grand Lake area

The Daily Standard
    Mercer and Auglaize county residents lucked out as heavier snow fell to the south this past weekend leaving local residents to deal mainly with cold, gusty winds.
    At 10 a.m. today, Mercer County Sheriff Jeff Grey decreased the county's snow emergency level from 2 to 1. High winds and drifting snow caused a few accidents and power outages in the area late Friday and early Saturday, leading Grey to post the Level 2 snow emergency at 5:45 a.m. Saturday.
    "We were very, very fortunate," Grey said. "We could have been hit much worse like counties to the south. The state, county and township people did a good job plowing roads. In many cases they fought a losing battle with the stiff winds."
    Grey expects the Level 1 snow alert to continue in effect, barring any additional snowfall or increase in wind speed.
    A Level 1 snow alert advises motorists that roads are snowy and icy with blowing and drifting snow, and caution should be used when driving.
    A Level 2 advisory means roads are hazardous with blowing and drifting snow. Only people who feel it is necessary to drive should be out on the roadways. Employees are encouraged to check with their employers regarding attendance.
    Auglaize and Shelby counties do not issue snow emergencies, but simply ask motorists to use caution and common sense if they must be out on the roadways.
    Darke County Sheriff Toby Spencer held his county at Level 3 this morning, closing roadways to everyone except emergency vehicles. As much as 20 inches fell in some parts of Darke County during the weekend.
    Mercer County Sheriff's deputies experienced problems of their own responding to numerous reports of disabled vehicles and accidents during the weekend, Grey said. Sometimes, the deputies themselves became hung up in the snow. On Sunday, Grey rented a pair of snowmobiles from Dave Rolfes of Select Motors in Celina.
    "We placed magnetic signs on the snowmobiles to let people know who we were," Grey said.
    Two deputies were assigned to each vehicle in the northern and southern areas of the county, he explained. Grey said he hopes to use the vehicles as long as weather dictates their need.
    Grey advises motorists who have to be out to drive on main state routes as much as possible and keep speeds down.
    "You can be driving along on clear stretches and all at once come upon a drift," Grey said.
    That's exactly what happened Sunday when a motorist struck a large drift of snow on Ohio 117. No one was hurt, Grey said, but the vehicle hit the snow so hard the air bag in the vehicle deployed.
    Schools, banks, post offices and many government offices are closed today, but not due to the snow. The day off is in observance of Presidents Day.
    Local weather forecaster Dennis Howick said Mercer County received 7.4 inches of snow throughout the weekend, pushing the winter total above the area's average to 37.4 inches. The average snowfall for the Grand Lake St. Marys area is 34.6 inches, Howick noted.
    Howick said, unfortunately, the white stuff will be with us a little longer.
    "We're not going to see this disappear any time soon," he said this morning. "The snow might shrink a bit as temperatures get up into the 40s this week, but it's going to be white for a while yet."
    The National Weather Service in Wilmington is forecasting an additional one to two inches of snow today with a possibility of a freezing drizzle tonight as winds die down to less than 10 mph.
    The roar of snow plows was constant the last three days as state and county crews tried to stay ahead of the snow.
    "We have 14 crews out and all roads are passable," Steve Zehringer, Ohio Department Of Transportation county road manager, said this morning. "But there still is ice on the roadways."
    Zehringer said the only problems his crews have encountered so far is a periodic breakdown of trucks, which is expected when in use as steady as the last few days. State crews have been out on the roadways constantly since 8 p.m. Friday, Zehringer said.
    Rick Newcom, superintendent for the Mercer County Highway Department, said since Friday his crews have worked 15 to 16 hours followed by eight hours off the road, to give the snow plow drivers a much-needed break.
    "We were back at it each morning by 4 (a.m.)," Newcom said. "It's not too bad out there right now."
    Newcom said the county crews were currently not dropping salt due to the high wind. The snow sticks to the salt when it's windy causing even more hazardous driving, he explained.
    Midwest Electric Co., based in St. Marys, reported about 100 scattered outages throughout Mercer and Auglaize counties due to high winds the last few days. During the weekend, about 10 customers in Marion and Franklin townships in Mercer County were without power as the result of two separate accidents in which utility poles were struck, according to public relations director Matt Berry.
    Dayton Power & Light reported no problems during the recent storm.      - Daily Standard reporter Margie Wuebker contributed to this story.


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