Lexington police ready for potential inclement weather this weekend

jmadden@herald-leader.comDecember 5, 2013 

  • Weather watch

    A nasty mix of sleet, snow and freezing rain began across Western Kentucky on Thursday night and was forecast to work eastward on Friday.

    The first round of winter could drop sleet, freezing rain and snow, especially across the north and west, through Friday night, WKYT Chief Meteorologist Chris Bailey said.

    Western Kentucky could get up to 4 inches of snow or sleet and up to a quarter-inch of ice, while Central Kentucky could get up to an inch of snow and a quarter-inch of ice; light accumulations were forecast in Eastern and Southeastern Kentucky, Bailey said.

    After a break on Saturday, the next round of significant sleet, freezing rain and snow moves back into the region, Bailey said.

    Keep up with Bailey's forecast at weather.bloginky.com.

Lexington police, much like the city's street and utility crews, are aware of early forecasts for a winter blast reminiscent of the 2003 ice storm.

Police are aware of the weather reports earlier this week, and have been through severe weather enough to know what to do, Lexington police spokeswoman Sherelle Roberts said.

Roberts said plans are in place for dealing with inclement weather. If it's needed, they will put those plans in place.

"At this point, as always, we have officers who are available if the need presents itself," Roberts said. "Already, we have reallocated our existing resources and manpower ahead of these weather events."

The February storm that hit Lexington a decade ago — arguably one of the worst and most memorable to hit the area — covered the city with 1 to 2 inches of ice. It left the city without power for a week, and it took out about 106 traffic signals, creating traffic snarls and tying up officers.

Back in 2003, officers had to stand at intersections directing traffic. Things have changed since then.

Since 2009, the Division of Police and Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government have been equipping traffic lights with inverter boxes — special boxes that can be connected to the battery of a police cruiser to give traffic lights juice. Boxes are placed at several major intersections, including Nicholasville Road and Tates Creek.

By 2010, there were 11 cruisers with inverters on standby in case there was a power outage. Police have been increasing those numbers over time, but did not have an exact count for the past two years.

Four were installed last weekend, and officials hope to install a total of 11 by the end of this year.

Each box costs $160, said Lt. Dean Marcum said. With installation and other equipment costs, the boxes were about $300.

"It allows us to get power to the intersections faster, which in turn gets the traffic signals operating," said Marcum, who led the research to choose the best device. "This is safer and more efficient for the community as well as our officers."

Marcum said the traditional way was for officers to direct traffic during power outages, creating a staffing issue for police. During outages, two officers were needed to operate the traffic lights, Marcum said. The devices eliminate such a demand on resources.

Officials said this has been a long and experimental process, but it has become effective.

"Our division consulted the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet about the program," Traffic Signal Systems Manager Steven Cummins said. "Once we obtained approval to move forward, the police began researching different components for us to order and test in our lab."

Another possible option was the use of diesel generators, but officials feared fuel wouldn't last. Marcum said there was an additional fear of thefts after one generator was almost stolen.

Marcum says Lexington police invented the inverter boxes in 2008. At the time, the devices were built from scratch and it wasn't clear whether they would work. They did.

In August 2009, the summer after a devastating ice storm cut power to nearly 30,000 households in Lexington and more than 500,000 homes statewide, officers began acquiring more inverters. Roberts says police paid for the devices using "asset forfeiture" funds, money seized from drug dealers and other criminals.

After seeing Lexington's use of the devices, officials from Louisville, Florence and Knoxville, Tenn., have visited the city to begin similar projects, Roberts said.

The boxes aren't exactly fool-proof. For example, the 2009 storm created another issue: Traffic signals became piñatas. The ice weighed them down and many were broken by 18-wheelers because they sagged so low, said Cummins.

Still, the program has largely been a success, and Cummins said there is a larger purpose with the inverter boxes.

"Any time we get ice storms ... we just know that can be a real safety issue," he said.

Inverters keep "officers out of the street where it can be quite dangerous for them" and they should "provide citizens an enhanced peace of mind knowing that our divisions take their safety very seriously."


Weather watch

A nasty mix of sleet, snow and freezing rain began across Western Kentucky on Thursday night and was forecast to work eastward on Friday.

The first round of winter could drop sleet, freezing rain and snow, especially across the north and west, through Friday night, WKYT Chief Meteorologist Chris Bailey said.

Western Kentucky could get up to 4 inches of snow or sleet and up to a quarter-inch of ice, while Central Kentucky could get up to an inch of snow and a quarter-inch of ice; light accumulations were forecast in Eastern and Southeastern Kentucky, Bailey said.

After a break on Saturday, the next round of significant sleet, freezing rain and snow moves back into the region, Bailey said.

Keep up with Bailey's forecast at weather.bloginky.com.

Justin Madden: (859) 231-3197. Twitter: @HLpublicsafety

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