MICHIGAN CITY – A wild weather weekend that saw snow, sleet and freezing rain, culminated in an ice storm late Monday and early Tuesday that closed schools, halted trains, caused power outages and made driving treacherous.
Indiana State Police Sgt. Tony Slocum summed up Tuesday best, saying: "Freezing rain is making a lot of roads extremely slick. This makes it another, “Avoid the Ditch” day."
The National Weather Service said ice accumulations of one-tenth to two-tenths of an inch were common in northern and north central Indiana, and that left La Porte County students with another unexpected day off.
Michigan CIty Area Schools initially announced a two-hour delay in the start of school, but when the ice had not started to melt by mid-morning, canceled classes for the day and students had an eLearning Day, with assignments and other classwork done online.
Westville and South Central schools were also closed for eLearning Days, as were the Tri-Township schools, which initially announced a delay before canceling regular classes. Marquette students stayed home for a Virtual Learning Day due to icy roads; and the La Porte Community School Corp. also canceled all classes for the day.
Indiana Department of Transportation crews were kept busy dumping salt and pushing slush and ice off the roads, but warned there were "slick spots all over."
A Winter Weather Advisory was extended from 6 a.m. until 8 a.m. Tuesday, and all La Porte County government offices opened with a two-hour delay. Porter County offices also opened with a two-hour delay, and arriving workers found that an internet service disruption affected both phone lines and the email system, though 911 lines remained operational.
Several events were canceled, including the rescheduled Michigan City Area School Board meeting, and the La Porte County District Spelling Bee, which was scheduled for Tuesday night at Westville High School. That event will be rescheduled.
The La Porte County Sheriff's Department reported no major accidents, but on Sunday, another day plagued with icy snow-covered road, a deputy's car was struck not once, but twice, while stopped to assist a motorist.
Sunday afternoon, the deputy had stopped to assist a disabled motorist on the shoulder of westbound U.S. 30, just east of CR-800 West, with emergency lights activated.
The deputy was out of the vehicle when a westbound motorist lost control and their vehicle struck the squad car. Shortly after, another westbound vehicle lost control and struck the vehicle, according to the sheriff's office. No one was injured.
"The primary cause of both crashes was ruled to be speed too fast for weather conditions," the sheriff's office said in a Facebook post. "The sheriff’s office cannot stress enough the importance of adjusting your driving behaviors accordingly to weather conditions. #slowdown"
While officers and INDOT were busy on the roads, NIPSCO crews were busy repairing electric lines that were brought down by ice, and early Tuesday, the total number of outages reached 9,000. By 5 p.m. the number was down to about 2,700.
However, with strong winds and snow expected later in the day and evening, NIPSCO warned of an increased risk of power outages from downed trees and branches. Winds were expected to gust to 40-50 mph, according to the Weather Service; and a wind advisory was put into effect until 3 a.m. Wednesday for much of Northwest Indiana.
The worst outages were in the eastern end of NIPSCO's service territory, and Indiana Michigan Power, which serves northeast Indiana, reported more than 18,000 outages in Indiana.
While Michigan City saw only a couple of outages, the Westville area had 660 power outages, mostly on the west of town in the Jackson Township area; La Porte had 371 on the east side of town; and Wanatah had 95. Most customers in those areas had their power restored by early afternoon.
It was another rough day for South Shore Line riders as all train service was suspended in the middle of the morning rush when Metra experienced problems with overhead wires on its Electric Line. South Shore service eventually resumed late in the morning, starting with westbound Train 116 from Carroll Avenue.
Westbound trains were positioned at Hegewisch, East Chicago, Gary Metro Center and Dune Park to take passengers on their way after long delays and several train cancelations. The railroad announced it would not collect fares on any trains for the rest of the day in either direction, according to spokeswoman Amber Kettring.
Crashes were a common occurrence along I-94 and I-65, where numerous semis slid off the road. Early Tuesday morning, ISP Sgt. Ann Wojas Please posted on Twitter; "Please don’t call us about the semis on I-80/94 at 21.3 mm WB; a tanker NB on I-65 at 248 mm; and two semis NB on I-65 at 213. These crashes/slide-offs occurred last night. Recovery crews are waiting for better weather and road conditions."
Across Indiana, there were many similar stories, and some fatalities.
A northeast Indiana man and his two daughters died after his car slid off a snow-covered rural road and into a river. The Noble County Sheriff's Department says the crash, which occurred around 10 a.m. Monday, killed 50-year-old JJ Reyes of Ligonier, and his daughters, 15-year-old Zulia and 13-year-old Valeria.
Police said Reyes lost control on a curve and his car entered a ditch and then the Elkhart River, where it was carried about 180 feet downstream before overturning and submerging.
Another motorist, 62-year-old Glen Sharp of Wheatfield, died Sunday after losing control on snow-covered I-65 in Jasper County and colliding with a tanker truck, according to state police.
And no one was injured when a small plane slid on a snowy runway at Richmond Municipal Airport and crossed State Road 227.
After more rain, snow, fog and high winds into Wednesday morning, the Weather Service said things should start to calm down. Wednesday was expected to see winds decreasing and snow ending by noon, with a high near 30 and a low at night of 26.
Thursday will see a 40 percent chance of rain after noon, with a high near 42. Thursday night's low will be around 24, with a chance of rain or snow. Friday will see a high of 30 with a chance of afternoon snow.