Gov. Matt Bevin declared a state of emergency and activated the Kentucky National Guard on Friday afternoon as a massive winter storm blanketed the state with ice and snow.
Traffic on Interstate 75 slowed to a standstill in spots as crews struggled to remove jackknifed tractor-trailers.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to the Lexington Herald-Leader
The storm was expected to end Saturday morning after dumping more than a foot of snow in many places. In Eastern Kentucky, snow totals could be historic, National Weather Service meteorologist Tony Edwards said.
“It’s going to be our biggest snowfall since the mid-’90s,” Edwards said.
About 120 members of the Kentucky National Guard were activated by 5 p.m. Friday to serve across the state, primarily by clearing roadways using heavy equipment, said Guard spokesman Walt Leaumont.
They were activated by Gov. Matt Bevin after requests were made by several county judge-executives to state Adjutant General Stephen Hogan.
The worst traffic problem, Leaumont said, appeared to be on I-75 between Mount Vernon and London. Kentucky State Police posted on Twitter about 2:30 p.m. that multiple wrecks in Rockcastle County had closed all lanes of I-75 for 12 miles between the two cities.
Albert Hale, emergency manager for Laurel County, said the interstate was blocked for several hours in northern Laurel County and southern Rockcastle County because of large trucks that were unable to make it up hills or had slid off the road.
Hale estimated there were more than 500 vehicles stopped at various spots on the northbound and southbound sides of the interstate at one point.
“The snow’s so deep the trucks can’t pull,” Hale said. “It’s a mess, buddy.”
Leaumont urged people to stay off the roads, adding that the situation “should improve Saturday afternoon.”
Between 8 and 12 inches of additional snow was expected to fall in far Eastern Kentucky between 4 p.m. Friday through Saturday. The National Weather Service predicted that West Liberty and Jackson might receive an additional 6 to 8 inches, while Lexington might see another 4 to 6 inches.
Snow began falling about 7:30 a.m. in downtown Lexington, where most flights at Blue Grass Airport were canceled. By the end of the day, Lexington police said they had responded to two injury and 35 non-injury collisions and 49 requests for motorist assistance since midnight. By 4:30 p.m., 5.8 inches of snow was recorded at Blue Grass Airport, the weather service said.
Lexington is prepared for the University of Kentucky and Vanderbilt University game at Rupp Arena that was scheduled to begin at 4 p.m. Saturday, said Albert Miller, the city’s director of streets and roads.
Crews have been busy both plowing and removing snow around Rupp Arena and will continue to keep streets clear around that area, Miller said.
The storm started its Kentucky path with freezing rain in the south before turning to snow as the system traveled north through the state, according to the National Weather Service offices in Louisville and Jackson.
The ice caused treacherous travel conditions and scattered power outages, the weather service’s Jackson office reported.
Kentucky Power, which has 175,000 customers in 20 counties in Eastern Kentucky, reported 248 customers without power in Leslie County at 6 p.m. The utility said nearly 160 workers from outside its service area are in Kentucky to assist with repairs. The additional workers from Alabama, Illinois, Ohio and South Carolina will be working from staging locations in Ashland, Hazard and Pikeville. Requests also have been made for up to 360 additional crews, which were expected to begin arriving on Saturday.
In Perry County, Judge-Executive Scott Alexander declared a local state of emergency because of poor road conditions.
Bobby Johnson, emergency manager in Floyd County, said road crews were hard-pressed.
“The snow’s just faster than the trucks,” he said.
The local forecast was for 5 to 8 inches of snow Friday; by noon, there was 7 or 8 inches on the ground, with more falling.
“The more snow we get, the heavier the trees will get,” meaning more potential for limbs to snap and knock down power lines, Johnson said.
During an afternoon press conference, Lexington Mayor Jim Gray thanked citizens for staying off the roads Friday. Lower traffic volume helped reduce the number of injury accidents, he said.
LexTran suspended service Friday night but will operate under its snow plan on a one-hour delay Saturday morning. The snow plan can be found at www.lextran.com/snow-plan-stops.
LexCall, the city’s main information center, will be open 24 hours for people who need assistance, Lexington city leaders said. Citizens should call 911 only if it’s a life-threatening emergency. Visitation at the Fayette County Detention Center has also been canceled for Saturday.
Lexington residents were asked to avoid parking along emergency routes, which are marked by street signs.
The city opened all downtown city-owned parking garages, including Helix, Transit Center, Courthouse and Victorian Square, for free use until noon Sunday.
The only weather-related death was that of a man in Whitley County who was a passenger in a vehicle that collided Thursday with a snow plow, said Jill Midkiff, a spokeswoman for the state Health and Family Services Cabinet.
The National Weather Service office in Louisville is providing winter storm updates for Central Kentucky.
For Eastern Kentucky, the Jackson weather service office is providing updates on the storm here.
Winter weather help and information
▪ Lexington residents may call LexCall 311 for assistance at 859-425-2255 beginning at 8 a.m. Friday. LexCall will be open 24 hours for the duration of the storm.
▪ Lexington residents may call or text 859-913-0038 to report someone in need of shelter.
▪ Kentucky Utilities customers experiencing outages may find more information on the company’s outage map at Lge-ku.com/storm.
▪ Keep track of affected flights on the airport’s website.
▪ Fayette County Sheriff Kathy Witt will provide rides to medical personnel who need to get to work, beginning at 6 a.m. Friday. Additionally, Witt’s “winter cares” program will deliver prescriptions and take people to emergency medical appointments such as chemotherapy or dialysis. Witt’s office also will conduct welfare checks on the elderly. Call 859-252-1771 for details.