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Winter storm poses challenges for INDOT, National Guard

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — Indiana Department of Transportation and National Guard officials on Thursday said this week’s snowstorm is much riskier than most winter weather.

Meteorologists predict high winds and light, powdery snow will lead to whiteout conditions on Friday. That has already happened in the western United States. INDOT spokesperson Kyleigh Cramer said staff including the agency’s own meteorologists will monitor conditions and check in regularly with snow plow drivers. She said drivers have trained for whiteout conditions on simulators but will pull off the highway if necessary.

“If they need to pull over to the side of the road, if it’s getting in that whiteout condition, we will have them pull over,” Cramer said. “They are definitely allowed to make that call.”

Officials activated the state emergency operations center at 7 a.m. Thursday. Early in the afternoon, about 150 National Guard soldiers and airmen reported for duty in northern Indiana. They will patrol highways to rescue stranded drivers, much as they did during February’s snowstorm. Lt. Col. Randi Bougere, the Guard’s chief strategic communications officer, said the Guard personnel will carry supplies including bottled water and blankets for stuck travelers and will take them to a safe place. She said the Guard has modified its procedures for road rescues this time around due to the whiteout risk.

“There’s just going to be a lot more checkpoints, check-in opportunities over the radios with these servicemembers that are out patrolling to ensure we are doing our job and not being part of the issue,” Bougere said.

Bougere said the Guard will focus on the northern part of the state because that is where conditions will be the worst. She said the personnel will stage out of armories in Gary, South Bend, Fort Wayne, Muncie, Kokomo and Lafayette.

Cramer said INDOT has about 1,000 trucks detailed to clear the roads including 57 in Marion County alone. She said staying off the road unless absolutely necessary not only keeps you safe, it also gives snow plow drivers more room to use their blades. This means they can clear the roads much more quickly and efficiently.