INDIANAPOLIS (WISH/AP) - Emergency officials upgraded travel statuses in some counties as road conditions continued to improve Thursday morning.
In Wayne County, the board of commissioners lifted the Level 3 warning, which prohibited travel by all but emergency vehicles. The board lowered the county's status to a Level 1, which warns motorists of slick roadways, especially the roads located outside of the Richmond city limits.
Johnson County commissioners lifted all restrictions around 4:30 p.m. Thursday.
Road crews had cleared many of the main roads Wednesday night were trying to open up secondary roads Thursday morning. But even on roads that appeared clear, officers said there were may areas coated with black ice, so motorists traveling to work were urged to use caution and drive slowly.
Authorities in Shelby County also lowered their travel status to Level 2, which means essential travel is permitted for those who need to get to work and those who need to drive when emergency situations arise.
As of about 2 p.m. Thursday, four counties still remained under a travel warning, which restricts travel to emergency personnel only. See the current advisories here .
SNOWFALL TOTALS VARIED WIDELY
The National Weather Service said the winter storm that hit Wednesday dumped its highest snowfall amount near the southern Indiana town of Ellettsville.
Al Shipe of the weather service's Indianapolis office said the 13-inch snowfall total near that Monroe County town is based on preliminary information. He said the Weather Service will be preparing a comprehensive snowfall map based on two-day storm totals.
But Shipe said it's clear that south-central and southwestern Indiana received the highest storm totals, with about a foot of snow.
Evansville saw 7.7 inches of snow, and Indianapolis had 7.5 inches for the city's deepest snowfall since January 2009.
The storm was less severe further north as 2 to 4 inches fell in the Fort Wayne and South Bend areas.
TRAVEL RESTRICTIONS STILL NEEDED
Henry County downgraded its warning late Thursday morning to a travel watch, ending a ban on travel by anyone other than emergency vehicles.
As the sun emerged on Thursday morning, road crews were still hard at work there, pushing and pulling their way through the heavy snow. Initial estimates Thursday morning were that 50-60 percent of the county's roads remained impassable.
"A number of vehicles have attempted to get through, unable to get through. So, we're either having to pull them out, or plow them out so a wrecker truck can get to them. That has slowed our progress down," said Henry County Highway Department Administrator Joe Wiley.
With smaller equipment that some larger counties, there were several huge piles of snow that the county's small force of "regular" plows simply couldn't move. One plow got stuck trying and had to towed out.
For county officials it was clear evidence that some travel restrictions were still needed.
"If you're in a two wheel drive, front wheel drive car, you've got no business on some of these closed roads," said Henry County Emergency Management Agency Director Ronald Huffman. "We've changed the status just recently. We took it off the highest level and dropped it one, which allows for other than emergency traffic. So, people can go out and on their way."
But, some had nowhere to go. Their vehicles—and their homes—were snowed in.
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So, in many spots, neighbors took matters into their own hands.
"I just came from the neighbors over there, trying to help him out so he could get out and stuff. He's got little ones and had a doctors appointment to get to," said Kenney Gulley, who lives near the Henry/Fayette County line.
The "jailbreak" from his home finally came by mid-afternoon.
"I was supposed to go to work this morning, but I couldn't get out. We've got it mostly clear now, though. In this area right here, we really expect it. We catch all the winds and stuff, and the roads are really bad," he said.
For some, the slow response can bring frustration.
County highway crews have a 24-36 hour goal to get to bare pavement on most roads. But, shrinking budgets--and smaller equipment—sometimes push it beyond even that.
"And, a heavy snow like this slows down the progress," Huffman said. "Instead of something taking four hours to clear, now it's going to take six."
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For many who drive rural roads regularly, it's the norm.
"You've got to get out there and do the best you can and get through the best you can," said U.S. Mail carrier Libby Breeden. "I actually made it down this road, and looking at this, I'm amazed I did. It got me on down, and I had to have a farmer down the way come plow me out and pull me."
"What we do suggest is—if your road is clear, you're free to go," Huffman said. "If your road is impassable, please stay out of the way and let them do their job."
Employees at some Indianapolis fast food restaurants will take part in a 100-city strike Thursday morning.
The Muncie School Board's decision to close one of the city's two high schools has some students looking to enroll elsewhere.
Crews in Indianapolis and around Central Indiana are gearing up for this upcoming winter weather event.