ELKHART — A snow emergency that was declared last weekend in Elkhart County was modified Monday, Jan. 6, from an emergency warning to a watch, allowing drivers to commute to work using extreme caution.
The county issued a snow emergency order Sunday, Jan. 5, because of hazardous winter weather and snow that blanketed the area. The county commissioners along with the county’s emergency management department, the highway manager and the sheriff decided Monday to modify the declaration. Elkhart County offices will be open Tuesday, Jan. 7.
According to a press release from the Elkhart County Sheriff’s Department, during an emergency watch, only essential travel such as to and from work or emergency situations is recommended.
An emergency watch also urges schools, government agencies and other organizations to implement emergency action plans, according to the press release.
“With this kind of blizzard storm, it’s not only snow and ice,” Elkhart County Emergency Management Director Jennifer Tobey said. “It’s also wind and low temperatures, so we have to take everything into account.”
Wind has caused snow to drift onto the roads, creating challenges for county highway crews trying to plow. Yoder said highway manager Jeff Taylor has estimated that about 30 percent of subdivisions have been plowed.
“We have noticed that some private residents are plowing it themselves, which we greatly appreciate,” Yoder said.
County plows are having to rely on front-end loaders in some areas just to punch through large drifts, according to sheriff Brad Rogers.
“Once they pass through it and clear it, three hours later, it’s down to one lane,” he said.
While conditions in Goshen and Elkhart don’t seem too bad, “those out in the county or other places, it’s whole different ballgame because the wind has picked up and it’s a problem,” Rogers said.
According to the press release from the sheriff’s department, it is estimated that 15 to 20 percent of the roads may not be clear by Tuesday morning. Employers were advised to be aware of the road conditions and that their employees may have trouble getting to work.
Tobey said 2013 was the first year since she took office in 2006 that a weather emergency had not been declared.
“I don’t want to poke the bear or anything, but it’s just another reinforcement of why people need to have preparedness plans and pre-plan for emergencies,” Tobey said. “Sometimes people like to poke fun at the meteorologists about never being right, but they were pretty right this time.”
Indiana Gov. Mike Pence declared a state of emergency Monday for Elkhart County and 28 other Indiana counties due to the snow and extreme cold.
County officials typically ask for such declarations, potentially allowing them to tap federal funds to offset costs dealing with emergency situations, according to John Erickson, spokesman for the Indiana Department of Homeland Security. It’s no sure thing Elkhart County or the other counties will get federal assistance, but making the declaration is part of the process.
Elkhart Truth reporters Angelle Barbazon, Sharon Hernandez and Tim Vandenack contributed to this story.