Snow crews preparing for 'unusual' winter storm bringing frigid temperatures to Northeast Ohio
It could be a treacherous trek home for the holidays in Northeast Ohio this year.
The National Weather Service (NWS) is predicting frigid temperatures, high winds and possible blizzard conditions beginning Thursday night through Saturday.
Cities are opening warming centers and issuing parking bans ahead of the storm.
Road crews across the region are gearing up to respond to freezing rain on Thursday and lake-effect snow on Friday.
“It’s essentially two different storms, and our crews are going to have to treat the roads differently,” said Ray Marsch, spokesperson for the Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) region that covers Summit, Stark and Portage counties.
It’s not looking promising for the skies, either. Cleveland Hopkins International Airport might have to close, depending on the conditions, officials said in a press conference Wednesday.
“If it becomes too much, and it’s coming down too low and we just can’t, and it becomes a safety issue, we will possibly have to shut down the airport for a temporary period,” said spokesman John Goersmeyer.
Across the region, officials are more concerned about the plunging temperatures and high wind gusts than the actual snow accumulation.
Both Cleveland and Akron will deploy about 50 trucks each for salting and snow removal, officials said Wednesday.
“I don’t think the snow is going to be a problem at all. We’re prepared for that. It’s just having to cover that many square feet of pavement and keep it from freezing is going to be the tricky part of it,” said Jim Hall, bureau manager of Akron’s public works department.
Whether you’re flying or driving for holiday plans, here’s what you need to know about the forecast, how crews are prepping to respond – and how to stay safe.
Snow and ice response prep
The projected storm is “unusual” because the trifecta of snow, single-digit temperatures and high winds could make for dangerous driving conditions – and complicate crews’ response, Hall said.
Akron crews will attempt to pre-treat the roads ahead of the diving temperatures Thursday night, Hall said. They can’t use salt brine because of the rain, so they will have to use rock salt, he said.
Drivers should be extra cautious Thursday night into Friday morning due to an expected “flash freeze,” Hall added. The rain is expected to turn to freezing rain overnight, and temperatures will plummet - causing icy conditions.
“You’re going from 40 degrees and rain to 8 degrees in 4 or 5 hours, which is just crazy that it can get that cold that quick,” Hall said. “Any surface water could freeze and turn to ice.”
Snow is expected to begin Friday morning and last through the day, according to the National Weather Service.
Although the amount of expected snowfall is still up in the air, the frigid temperatures and gusts of wind will increase the chances of blowing snow, Hall added.
"There could be moments of limited visibility, maybe even whiteouts, typical of a blizzard, and I think that's why you hear a lot of people talking about the blizzard, because those type of conditions can creep up on you in a hurry,” he said.
Akron plows will prioritize expressways and main roads first, Hall said, then tackle local roads and residential streets.
When it comes to the highways, 300 ODOT trucks will be out on highways across Northeast Ohio, Marsch at ODOT added. Plow drivers will be working 12-hour shifts to stay on top of the conditions, he said.
Regardless, drivers need to take precautions when heading out for holiday plans, Marsch said.
“No matter how many crews we have out, you can never beat the storm,” he said. “Our goal is to always make the roads passable, not perfect. So, we’re going to have crews out on these 12-hour shifts constantly treating the roadways, but if the snow’s coming down more than an inch in an hour, you are going to see snow on the roads.”
Marsh encourages drivers to slow down and keep plenty of distance from the car ahead of them. Hall recommends keeping blankets and food supplies in your car in case of an emergency or breakdown in the freezing temperatures.
“If you’re looking at single-digit temperatures and winds in the 40 to 30 miles an hour, you can get frostbite just filling up your gas tank,” he said. “There’s a lot of real dangers out there, not specifically related to the roadways and the ice and the snow, but just that level of cold and wind.”
For those who are flying, Goersmeyer at the Cleveland airport recommends planning ahead in case flights are cancelled. He suggests checking to see if rooms are available at local hotels.
Individuals should check the status of their flights on the airport’s website, he said, because delays and cancellations are expected.
While the winter storm is expected to taper off Saturday, the cold temperatures will last through at least Tuesday, Hall added.
Across Northeast Ohio, municipalities are opening warming centers, listed below.
The city of Cleveland is extending the hours of several rec centers to serve as warming centers this weekend, according to a press release.
From Friday, Dec. 23 through Monday Dec. 26, Zelma George Neighborhood Resource & Recreation Center at 3155 Martin L. King Blvd. and the Michael Zone Neighborhood Resource & Recreation Center at 6301 Lorain Ave. will be open from 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Friday and 9:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday though Monday.
The Collinwood Neighborhood Resource & Recreation Center located at 16300 Lakeshore Blvd and the Sterling Neighborhood Resource & Recreation Center at 1380 E. 32nd St. will be open from 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday, Dec. 23 and 9:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday.
Akron is extending the hours at the Summit Lake Community Center to serve as a warming center. All other rec centers will be closed for the holiday weekend, officials said in a news release.
Summit Lake Community Center at 380 W. Crosier St. will be open from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. from Friday, Dec. 23 through Monday, Dec. 26.
Additionally, the emergency overnight shelter located at 111 East Voris St. will be open from Friday, Dec. 23 through Tuesday, Dec. 27 from 7 p.m. to 8 a.m.
The city of Canton will offer an overnight warming center beginning Thursday, Dec. 22 through Monday, Dec. 26, according to a release. The American Red Cross is supplying cots, and SARTA is offering free transportation.
The Edward “Peel” Coleman Community Center, located at 1400 Sherrick Rd SE will be open on Thursday and Friday from 6 p.m. through 8 a.m. and Saturday through Monday from 4 p.m. to 8 a.m., according to the release.
Refuge of Hope, located at 715 Second St NE, will be open from Friday, December 23 from 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. and on Saturday, December 24 from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.
Residents should tell their SARTA bus driver if they are en route to a warming center and the ride will be free, officials said in the release.
If transportation is needed but SARTA is not available, residents can call 330-649-5800 for assistance.
The Warming Center at The Haven of Portage County located at 2645 State Route 59 in Ravenna will open Thursday, Dec. 22, 2022, starting at 6 p.m. and will be open 24 hours each day until 8 a.m. Wednesday, Dec. 28, 2022.
Portage Area Regional Transit Authority will transport to the Haven from the main Ravenna-Kent route on every day except Sunday and Monday, officials said in a news release.