Anticipation of wintry weather in Lexington on Friday led to early school dismissals and closed city offices, and the predicted snow and ice could stick around next week as temperatures remain low, according to some meteorologists.
National Weather Service meteorologists predicted Central Kentucky would get less snow than initially feared, but on Friday afternoon they were still calling for about two to four inches in the Lexington area.
Similar amounts were expected in the counties surrounding Lexington in Central Kentucky, and in Eastern and southeastern Kentucky, according to the weather service.
Temperatures plunged within a few hours Friday morning in Lexington and surrounding counties, but the precipitation did not quickly change from rain to ice or snow. A winter storm warning was in effect until 4 a.m. Saturday.
WKYT-TV chief meteorologist Chris Bailey predicted early Friday that 4 to 8 inches of snow would fall in the region, and his projection didn’t change as the storm moved across the state Friday afternoon.
In Louisville and in Northern Kentucky counties near Cincinnati, 2 to 4 inches of snow was forecast, the weather service said. It previously projected as much as 6 inches in those areas.
Snow reached the western part of the state early Friday morning, according to media reports, and it quickly made travel hazardous. Tractor-trailers, in particular, had trouble, with significant crashes delaying traffic on Interstate 24 in Paducah and the Western Kentucky Parkway. Icing closed or disrupted portions of other roads, including the William Natcher Parkway and the U.S. 45 Ohio River “Brookport” Bridge connecting Paducah to Illinois.
Temperatures dropped nearly 50 degrees in a 24-hour span across Western Kentucky, Bailey said.
National Weather Service meteorologist Kyle Wilkins said the timing of the temperature drop in Western Kentucky was what surprised him and the weather service the most.
“Things started off freezing a little earlier than we expected in the west, but now there is a dry spell” that was expected, he said at 1:30 p.m. Friday. The gap between rain and freezing rain or snow allowed crews time to treat roads, Wilkins said.
In response to the storm, the Kentucky Emergency Management agency activated its State Emergency Operations Center, where some state and private agencies or partners can monitor the storm, it announced Friday morning.
“Our primary mission is to support our counties, their responders and the citizens of the commonwealth,” said Michael E. Dossett, director of emergency management. “By being proactive and activating our State Emergency Operations Center, it allows us to quickly and efficiently respond to their needs.”
In anticipation of the storm, many school districts in Central Kentucky canceled classes; Fayette County dismissed schools early.
Lexington Mayor Jim Gray said Friday afternoon that the city had been preparing for the weather and had trucks and street crews ready.
There are 6,000 tons of salt on hand in Lexington, city officials said. More than 50 snow-removal drivers would work the storm.
The city planned to apply salt once temperatures hit freezing, according to Albert Miller of the city’s Division of Streets and Roads.
The Kentucky Transportation Cabinet district that covers much of central Kentucky said Friday that they were ready for the incoming weather. A salt mixture was ready to be spread on roads in the area and chains were added to the tires of plow trucks to improve traction.
Meanwhile, some grocery store shelves were emptied in Lexington and nearby counties. Jeanie Beall, manager of the Kroger Marketplace in Georgetown, said Thursday her store had been “very, very busy,” with customers loading up on groceries before the impending snow.
The most recent winter storm warning in the area was in January 2016, when snow buried much of Kentucky, causing Gov. Matt Bevin to declare a state of emergency and activate the Kentucky National Guard.
Bailey said 2018 started off with a seven-day stretch of extreme cold, followed by record highs that will then be followed by more extreme cold. Wednesday’s high of 65 degrees set a record, and Thursday’s high of 66 tied the record for that day in Lexington.
Temperatures over the weekend and into next week are expected to remain below freezing, with highs in the 20s Saturday and Sunday, according to the National Weather Service. On Monday, temperatures may reach a high of 37, but flurries and snow showers are also expected and temperatures will likely drop back into the teens and 20s until Thursday or Friday.
Herald-Leader reporters Morgan Eads, Karla Ward and Janet Patton contributed to this report.