It might be forecasted to be 62 degrees on Thanksgiving Day, but Johnson County has already seen snowfall this month.
Despite the break from the cold, residents should take steps now to prepare for winter weather. With less than a month to go until the official start of winter, now is the time for county residents to take steps to prepare for the hazards that come with it, experts say.
‘Wetter than normal’ winter
Meteorologists say conditions indicate the possibility for La Niña to occur for the third consecutive winter. Typically, the Ohio Valley experiences “wetter than normal” conditions during La Niña winters, according to the National Weather Service.
Other climate factors are likely to have an impact on Indiana’s weather this winter, however, they can only be forecast a few weeks in advance, officials say.
From December to February 2023, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Climate Prediction Center is expecting wetter-than-average conditions across areas of the Ohio Valley and Great Lakes.
About half of Indiana, including Johnson County, is leaning toward above-average precipitation. There is a 33-44% probability of above-normal precipitation, which could come in the form of ice, snow or rain, officials say.
This winter, the county has an equal chance of above-average or below-average temperatures, officials say.
Officials say they’re prepared
Johnson County, Franklin and Greenwood officials all say they are prepared to handle winter weather. Their respective highway and street departments began preparing trucks this fall.
Prior to a winter weather event, officials look at weather forecasts and determine what their deployment plan will be. For each jurisdiction this is different, but all tend to split resources into two 12-hour shifts to provide 24-hour coverage until both the winter storm and operations are complete.
“Focusing a majority of our resources during daylight hours allows us to take advantage of the sun and higher pavement temperatures, greatly improving our ability to get roads clear,” said Luke Mastin, director of the Johnson County Highway Department.
The highway department does have one challenge that is more common for them compared to Franklin and Greenwood: blowing and drifting snow. This sometimes requires the department to remain on 12-hour snow response shifts after a winter storm is over, Mastin said.
In Franklin, city staff also review snowplow routes and adjusted them as needed based on city growth from the previous year. Additionally, the department makes sure they have all the materials they need in stock, said Brett Jones, street commissioner.
Five of Greenwood’s trucks are currently tied up on leaf removal and will be switched to prepare for snowfall once the city catches up on leaf pickup, said Kenny Duncan, street superintendent.
In terms of state roads — such as Interstate 65, U.S. 31 or State Road 135 — the Indiana Department of Transportation is responsible for treatment. If conditions allow, crews will pre-treat roads with salt brine and regularly treat roads with rock salt. Salt and brine take longer to activate in colder temperatures, so environmentally-friendly chemicals are used to boost their effectiveness, INDOT officials say.
Staffed up, stocked up
Duncan, Jones and Mastin all say their respective departments have enough manpower to plow roads. If needed, both Franklin and Greenwood’s departments also able to work with other departments within their respective cities, Duncan and Jones said.
For Johnson County, the highway department is heading into winter with all of its operations positions fully-staffed for snow coverage for the first time in several years. However, cleanup will still take longer than they’d like because the county has a lot of road mileage to cover, Mastin said.
While there have been reports of salt shortages in other states, local officials have no concerns about that happening here as of now.
Greenwood’s salt barns are full of salt now, and officials can order more if needed, Duncan said.
“I haven’t heard of a shortage here but have seen them before. Hopefully, that won’t happen,” he said.
Based on Franklin’s four-year average of usage, Jones believes the department has enough, though it is too early to tell for sure.
“It can be hard to gauge, (it) depends on how much and how often we get snow/ice,” Jones said.
The county has the ability to purchase more salt if needed, but right now the issue is having enough room for it.
“We currently only have enough storage capacity for about 30% of our total season quantity,” Mastin said. “This unfortunately can put us at the mercy of salt and delivery availability as we submit orders throughout the season, depending on how severe the winter weather is.”
However, upgrades to the county’s salt application systems over the last several years allow the highway department to control application rates with more precision than in the past. This allows for better contingency planning if salt supply and delivery becomes an issue, he said.
Safety tips for winter
There is a variety of actions people can take ahead of time to prepare for winter storms both at home and on the go.
At home, residents should make sure their furnaces are clean and the filters are changed so it operates efficiently without issue. There have been a number of times where the Bargersville Fire Department has been called to fires involving malfunctioning furnaces, said Mike Pruitt, deputy chief.
People should also make sure to have fireplaces or wood-burning stoves inspected, along with flues. It’s also important to make sure to have working smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors, Pruitt said.
Additionally, if using a space heater, keep them at least three feet away from combustible items. Residents should turn them off at night or when they’re not at home, he said.
In terms of vehicles, people should make sure their car is serviced, has good tires and is fueled up. They should also keep a windshield scraper, flashlights, blankets, phone chargers, water and snacks in their cars in case they are stranded and need help getting out, Pruitt said.
If people do become stranded, especially on a busy roadway or interstate, people should stay inside their vehicle. People can be seriously injured or killed if another vehicle slams into them or their car, he said.
“Sit in your car, make sure that your four ways are on, call for help and just stay there,” Pruitt said. “That’s your safest place to be.”