LEXINGTON, Ky. (WKYT) - Gov. Steve Beshear declared a statewide emergency to allow local officials immediate access to state resources to assist in public safety and recovery efforts.
The governor’s office issued a statement Monday afternoon, saying the state of emergency was declared in response to heavy snows and bitter cold across the Commonwealth in the past 12 hours. In terms of records, more snow has fallen today than in any other 24-hour period in 17 years, since 1998.
“This storm system is still dumping snow across much of the state and temperatures are forecast to drop further," he said. "Some areas may see accumulation of up to 16 inches, making it one of the worst storms in recent memory. By declaring a state of emergency now for the entire state, we can deploy any needed state assistance, including National Guard troops if necessary, without delay.”
Beshear echoed a request made by local and state officials throughout the day Monday: Avoid traveling on roads, if possible.
Road crews need to be able to salt and plow interstates and major highways, which is more difficult when motorists are out and about. The governor encouraged citizens to check on elderly neighbors.
The winter storm, which is being tracked by WKYT’s weather team, is shaping up to have a record presence. Well before Beshear had made his declaration, states of emergency were issued in Perry, Rock Castle and Lincoln counties.
Hundreds of schools and businesses closed on Monday, and planned to be closed Tuesday.
About the time when Beshear made his declaration, Lexington Mayor Jim Gray held a news conference to address the public and provide residents with an update. Gray said city offices will be closed Tuesday, and noted that there would not be any trash pickup Tuesday. Regardless of what might be ahead, Gray encouraged people to work together and said the storm "may break records, but it won break Lexington's spirit."
"The forecasters say we've got a hard week ahead of us, but our citizens are out helping one another," Gray said.
The winter blast rolled through overnight and provided very little relief throughout the day. A soft covering of snow covered the area in the early morning ours, and it continued to grow. That made it difficult for road crews to make any substantial dent in the snow. Many people still made the trek to jobs and other destinations. For example, Man o’ War and Interstate 75, just off Winchester Road, was messy and traffic slowed to a crawl Monday morning as people headed to work.
State and local crews treated the roads, but said subfreezing temperatures would reduce the effectiveness of salt and other chemicals.
WKYT meteorologist Micah Harris said there could be up to 16 inches of snow in some areas. Heavy snowfall, from one to two inches per hour, was expected through early Monday afternoon.
Lexington police have responded to multiple accidents, but they have spent the bulk of the day providing motorists with assistance. The number of motorists that needed assistance climbed steadily throughout the day, but there weren't a lot of accidents.
“We asked citizens to stay off the roads where possible, and they have. As a result, the number of accidents has been reasonably low,” Gray said.
Early Monday, Lexington police spokeswoman Sherelle Roberts said police had worked two injury collisions, 10 non-injury collisions, and provided assistance to 20 drivers since midnight. By 4 p.m., the police reported there had been five injury accidents; 34 non-injury accidents; and 293 calls from motorists needing assistance.
Lexington police called in extra units and brought on its second shift crew early. The fire department called in extra units to help where needed. And shelters for the homeless and anyone else in need are open.
Lexington police Chief Mark Barnard emphasized that motorists should not be on the roads unless they have to.
"For people who are just driving for no vital reason, you're putting everyone at risk," Barnard said.
WKYT sent news crews all across Kentucky, including Madison County, Laurel County and Frankfort with emergency management officials.
The Kentucky Transportation Cabinet told WKYT it has deployed 17 Safety Assistance for Freeway Emergencies (SAFE) trucks. SAFE drivers are trained to render emergency assistance.
Kentucky State Police reported snow covered roads at multiple patrol posts, including Mayfield, Bowling Green, Morehead, Pikeville and Hazard. Troopers said the roads are slick and snow is falling in various areas. They have asked motorists to be aware that weather conditions could change rapidly over the next few hours.
“Winter weather provides new challenges and responsibilities to the public and the Kentucky State Police,” KSP spokesman Sgt. Michael Webb said.
“We ask drivers to be prepared to meet the challenges of the upcoming winter driving season. Plan ahead, be sure everyone in the vehicle is properly restrained, drive defensively and ensure their vehicle is properly maintained to handle the effects of cold temperatures.”
Roads in Scott and Madison counties also were in bad shape.
In Scott County, WKYT saw cars and trucks fishtailing and spinning trying to turn near Interstate 75 at exit 124.
Georgetown police say they have been very busy this morning, pulling cars out of ditches and helping push cars back in the right direction.
Georgetown police have 4 military Humvees out to pick up people who have a medical need - or even nurses that need to get to work because the roads are just that bad.
"Our road crews have been out since early morning trying to get an upper hand on it but it's just so much snow coming down," Georgetown police Capt. Robert Swanigan said, adding that it is "very slick" and "very hazardous."
"A lot of cars spinning out we've been busy all morning getting people out of ditches and back on the roadway," he said.
Roads were somewhat empty Monday morning in Madison County. However, those who were out said they were heading to work. They said they were not looking forward to the drive home.
Jerry Hyde, who was driving in Madison County Monday, said the roads were pretty treacherous.
“I haven't come across any clear spots yet,” he said.
The Emergency Operations Center in Madison County is under construction so they are operating out of their backup location in the basement of Berea City Hall.
I've declared statewide #emergency due to snow and frigid temps. Please avoid driving so crews can clear the roads. Check on your neighbors.— Steve Beshear (@GovSteveBeshear) February 16, 2015
Thank you to all our crews at dispatch and on the roads working to keep people safe. Please don't drive today if possible.— Mayor Jim Gray (@JimGrayLexKY) February 16, 2015
Team coverage of weather:
Tweets from https://twitter.com/WKYT/lists/wkyt-s-feb-16-storm-team
Wrecks in and around Lexington:
Tweets by @lexwrecks