White Christmas Arrives Late

ST. CLAIRSVILLE – The Ohio State Highway Patrol received reports of more than 25 accidents Wednesday as snow, sleet and freezing rain fell across the Upper Ohio Valley – part of a powerful winter storm system that pounded the nation’s midsection Wednesday then headed toward the Northeast.

A dispatcher at the St. Clairsville patrol post said 12-13 crashes were handled by troopers working the day shift, while at least 15 accidents were reported to those on the afternoon shift prior to 9 p.m. He noted six of the afternoon shift reports turned out to be actual collisions, while the remaining reports involved slippery conditions that led to motorists becoming stuck without damaging their vehicles.

Not all of those accidents resulted from adverse weather conditions, however, as at least one driver who crashed on Interstate 70 was intoxicated, according to the dispatcher. He said no one was seriously injured in any of the accidents the patrol handled Wednesday.

The storm also impacted post-Christmas shopping and returns. Relatively few cars occupied the parking lots at the Ohio Valley Mall, and St. Clairsville restaurants reported lower numbers of customers than anticipated.

The Belmont County Sheriff’s Department maintained a Level Two snow emergency warning for driving late into Wednesday evening, indicating hazardous roads. Jefferson County officials said they whad no emergency warnings in effect.

Ohio County Emergency Management Director Lou Vargo said he had a “pretty quiet” day, noting he only knew of a few “minor” accidents in the Wheeling area on Wednesday.

“We have not had any real problems here,” he said. “We always monitor the weather so that we are prepared.”

According to the National Weather Service, those in the local area could see additional snow showers today, though additional accumulation should be less than 1 inch.

Across the Northeast, people braced for high winds and heavy snow that disrupted holiday travel, knocked out power to thousands of homes and were blamed in at least six deaths.

Hundreds of flights were canceled or delayed, scores of motorists got stuck on icy roads or slid into drifts, and blizzard warnings were issued amid snowy gusts of 30 mph that blanketed roads and windshields, at times causing whiteout conditions.

“The way I’ve been describing it is as a low-end blizzard, but that’s sort of like saying a small Tyrannosaurus Rex,” said John Kwiatkowski, a meteorologist with the NWS in Indianapolis.

The system, which spawned Gulf Coast region tornadoes on Christmas Day and a historic amount of snow in Arkansas, pushed through the Upper Ohio Valley and headed toward the Northeast. Forecasts called for 12 to 18 inches of snow inland from western New York to Maine starting late Wednesday and into Thursday and tapering off into a mix of rain and snow closer to the coast, where little accumulation was expected in such cities as New York and Boston.

The storm left freezing temperatures in its aftermath, and forecasters also said parts of the Southeast from Virginia to Florida would see severe thunderstorms.

Schools on break and workers taking holiday vacations meant that many people could avoid messy commutes, but those who had to travel were implored to avoid it. Snow was blamed for scores of vehicle accidents as far east as Maryland, and about two dozen counties in Indiana and Ohio issued snow emergency travel alerts, urging people to go out on the roads only if necessary.

Two passengers in a car on a sleet-slickened Arkansas highway were killed Wednesday in a head-on collision, and two people, including a 76-year-old Milwaukee woman, were killed Tuesday on Oklahoma highways. Deaths from wind-toppled trees were reported in Texas and Louisiana.

The day after a holiday wasn’t expected to be particularly busy for AAA, but its Cincinnati-area branch had its busiest Wednesday of the year. By mid-afternoon, nearly 400 members had been helped with tows, jump starts and other aid, with calls still coming in, spokesman Mike Mills said.

Jennifer Miller, 58, was taking a bus Wednesday from Cincinnati to visit family in Columbus.

“I wish this had come yesterday and was gone today,” she said, struggling with a rolling suitcase and three smaller bags on a slushy sidewalk near the station. “I’m glad I don’t have to drive in this.”

As the storm moved east, New England state highway departments were treating roads and getting ready to mobilize with snowfall forecasts of a foot or more that was expected to start falling late Wednesday and through today.

“People are picking up salt and a lot of shovels today,” said Andy Greenwood, an assistant manager at Aubuchon Hardware in Keene, N.H.