The Ottumwa Courier

February 2, 2011

Blizzard blankets heartland

Southern Iowans face hazardous driving conditions

Courier Staff Writer

OTTUMWA — Forecasters say blizzard conditions overnight mean snow totals between 13-21 inches for the Ottumwa area by this morning.

Officials recommend drivers go slow today and, if possible, avoid driving completely.

“Try to stay on the streets that are plowed. And depending on how you go you can avoid a lot of hills,” said Ottumwa Police Chief Jim Clark.

Don’t drive out of town, Clark added. But for those who do, he suggested they stay the night at their destinations while road conditions improve.

“Historically, when ever there’s a big storm like that, typically when it’s preceded by ice, we do tend to have more accidents,” Clark said. “Fortunately, most people are driving slow and fairly cautious. Usually they’re just minor, property damage only accidents.”

Accidents can be avoided if people just slow down, Clark said.

“If there’s ice on the street, just because the speed limit might be 25 or 30 [mph] doesn’t mean that’s what you go,” Clark said, adding that people should use their best judgment.

As of late Tuesday morning, Albia Police hadn’t had any accident reports, said Chief Jay Andrews.

“It seems like most people are using good sense and staying home,” Andrews said. “I imagine we will have a few before night is over.”

Andrews reminds drivers to be prepared for the worst.

“Before you leave your house, you need to be prepared to be stuck,” he said, that includes packing blankets, non-perishable food items, flashlights, a full tank of gas and water.

Andrews added that people need to realize that it might take law enforcement and emergency response crews extra time to respond in blizzard conditions.

As of noon Tuesday, Wapello County Sheriff’s officials had not responded to any accidents; Ottumwa Police reported two accidents. Mahaska County Sheriff’s deputies also responded to two accidents.

Between Monday night and noon Tuesday, Iowa State Patrol officers statewide investigated more than 100 crashes, responded to more than 210 calls for assistance and received more than  1,400 calls to the communication centers, according to the Iowa Department of Public Safety.

One option for those who don’t want to drive is Ottumwa’s bus service. Even in blizzard conditions, city buses in Ottumwa continue services, said OTA Director Pam Ward.

“We have delayed, we have run slow, but we’re out there,” said Ward. “There really just is not a day that we have ever canceled.”

Ward warned, though, that not all services run in heavy snow conditions.

“We have dispatches on hand that come in and start taking calls and addressing customer concerns about weather conditions,” she said. “Then we communicate back with drivers and figure out what services are reasonable to try to provide and what services we can’t.”

OTA bus drivers are trained in defensive driving and are refreshed with a course every year.

The buses are able to handle winter road conditions because extra tread and the vehicle weight allow them to better maneuver, Ward said.

Ward echoed others’ advice on driving on the snow.

“Take it easy. Slow and steady is the safest path to follow in days like today because once you get in a hurry that’s when those slick spots will sneak up and get you when you least expect it,” she said.

According to the National Weather Service, there will be areas of blowing snow and a chance of snow before noon today. Wind chill values today could get as low as minus 15 degrees, with winds between 15 and 24 mph. Thursday will be sunny with a high near 14 degrees.

Driving tips from the Iowa Department of Public Safety:

• Don’t speed

• Increase the distance from the car in front of you

• Keep an emergency kit in the vehicle with food, blankets and a charged phone.

• Keep the car well-maintained with inflated tires and a full tank of gas

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