Winter Storm Coats Much Of Kentucky With Snow, Ice - wave3.com-Louisville News, Weather & Sports

Winter Storm Coats Much Of Kentucky With Snow, Ice

(LOUISVILLE, December 23rd, 2004) -- A record-breaking winter storm left thick layers of snow and ice covering much of Kentucky on Thursday, causing a near-standstill as highway crews struggled to clear snow-clogged roads.

Blizzard-like conditions with blowing and drifting snow forced highway crews to suspend work overnight in parts of western Kentucky, said state Transportation Cabinet spokesman Mike Goins.
Kentucky National Guardsmen joined in retrieving snowbound travelers on an interstate.

"This is a storm you might see two or three of these in your adult life," said David Humphrey, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Paducah.

Paducah was buried under 14 inches of snow, topping the yearly norm of 10 and doubling its previous record snowfall for one day, Humphrey said.

The Louisville area had 6 to 10 inches of snow and ice. Inch-thick ice coated the Elizabethtown and Bardstown areas, causing power outages.

In northern Kentucky, traffic was backed up at least 12 miles on a stretch of southbound Interstate 71 after four tractor-trailers were unable to get up an icy hill and blocked the road, state police said.

"It's just created one ugly mess," said state police dispatcher Bertha Bailey.

Dozens of stranded travelers along I-71 bunked down overnight in the lobby and hallways at the Best Western Executive Inn at Carrollton. Some weary guests were sprawled across chairs in the dining room, others curled up in corners or under stairs, using rolled up towels as pillows, said desk clerk Jalyn Melcic.

Dale Simpson was traveling with his family to a funeral in Tennessee when he pulled off at the motel about 1 a.m. EDT, unwilling to keep risking the treacherous conditions.

"It had started building up so bad that the bottom of the car was riding on the snow in the middle of the road," the Pontiac, Mich., man said. "We watched people slide off the road every 30 feet."

A six-mile stretch of Interstate 24 in Lyon County came to a standstill for a time because of accidents and stranded vehicles, Goins said. State police in Madisonville said roads in the area were impassable.

Highway crews called off overnight because of blinding snow were expected to be back on the roads around daybreak Thursday, Goins said.

Kentucky National Guard units in western Kentucky were called out late Wednesday to help retrieve stranded motorists, mostly along snowbound I-24. State police Trooper Barry Meadows  said a 40-mile stretch of the interstate was at a virtual standstill.

"We've got semis stranded everywhere," Meadows said. "This interstate is a parking lot right now."

The 911 calls at the state police post at Mayfield kept piling up throughout Wednesday and finally totaled 433, the trooper said. "I don't think they've ever had that many calls before," he said.

National Guard Lt. Col. Phil Miller said a heart attack victim was found along the highway by a unit that happened to include a paramedic. He was taken to Calloway County Hospital.

Thursday morning, a series of cell phone calls between Miller, local Guardsmen and a couple from Georgia traveling through the state rescued a pregnant woman whose car was about to run out of gas.

Guard spokesman David Altom said 22 soldiers and 16 vehicles were working the roads to help motorists in the areas of Benton, Madisonville, Hopkinsville, Murray, Owensboro and Marion.

Meadows said one person was arrested for drunken driving.

"We couldn't believe it," Meadows said. "Most people have enough trouble driving on ice when they're sober."

Eastern Kentucky was spared the brunt of the storm. However, the weather service in Jackson said freezing rain was moving into parts of the region Thursday morning.

The storm even interrupted basketball, with Northern Kentucky University canceling its men's game Wednesday night on the Highland Heights campus.

In many areas, precipitation started as rain early Wednesday, then freezing rain before turning to snow as temperatures dropped. A second band of precipitation moved through the region Wednesday night. The heaviest snowfall occurred in sections of western and northern Kentucky.

Bardstown Police Chief Charles Marksbury said transformers knocked out by frozen branches knocked power out to a large portion of the city's businesses and homes Wednesday night.

"It's pretty major," Marksbury said.

While some highway district road crews tried to get a jump on the storm by pretreating roads with a liquid salt mixture, the rain that preceded the snow washed away much of the effort, Jeff Bibb, assistant director of the state Transportation Cabinet's operations center, said Wednesday.

Meanwhile, temperatures in some parts of Kentucky were expected to dip into single digits or lower the next two nights, forecasters warned.

Relief is in sight, however, with a warming trend expected to begin Sunday and last well into next week, the weather service said.