By ALISA MANNA
With Thanksgiving a day away and a winter storm system headed toward the East Coast, the Ohio Department of Transportation and Ohio State Patrol caution drivers to plan ahead this holiday.
Before the traditional turkey festivities can begin, AAA predicts about 43.4 million American will travel 50 miles or more over the four-day holiday travel period. Though this is a decrease from last year, Ohio Department of Transportation Public Information Officer Joel Hunt said Thanksgiving is one of the most-traveled holidays of the year, not to mention one of the deadliest.
However, Hunt said this time last year Ohio had the least amount of crashes, injuries and fatalities of the past four Thanksgiving weekends. According to the Ohio Department of Public Safety, there were 3,236 crashes, 1,019 injuries and 12 deaths-seven of which were alcohol-related.
To prevent accidents, the public information officer emphasizes avoiding distractions, buckling up and refrain from alcohol consumption.
Snowvember slams Valley
By MARGARET THOMPSON
Sliding over the road and into the woods, many travelers found driving in the snow difficult Tuesday night. Frequent requests for roadside assistance were called over the police scanner and Trumbull County 911 dispatch ramped up its forces in expectation of an influx of storm-related calls.
The snowstorm, being referred to as "snowvember" on social media sites, is expected to dump five to 10 inches on the area by Thursday, according to the National Weather Service.
"We brought on one extra call-taker, and I came in early," said dispatch supervisor Erich Luketic. "Depending on if we need it, we'll ask a volunteer to stay over if we're busy later."
Luketic said calls were pouring in as drivers lost control of their vehicles.
"We've had multiple crashes with no injuries, all over the county. Right now we're on Liberty, Vienna, Johnston and Newton Falls, but it's pretty much spread across the whole county," he said about 7 p.m. Tuesday.
Accidents were reported over the police scanner at the intersections of Howland Wilson and Howland Spring in Howland, the intersection of state Route 46 and 5th Street in Niles and Carson and Salt Springs, to name a few.
Numerous calls were made to dispatch on cars sliding into ditches, including the report of a van of Oblate Sisters going into a ditch off Logan Way near Tibbetts-Wick Road in Liberty around 5:45 p.m. The nuns were not injured.
"Polish up on your driving skills. Drive slow and give yourself extra time is the best advice," said meteorologist Don Guthrie of Tribune Chronicle newspartner WYTV 33 News.
The NWS issued a winter storm warning about 3 p.m. calling for the greatest accumulation of snow to fall east of Warren and Youngstown. The original warning was set to last until 10 p.m. Wednesday, but Guthrie noted it has been shortened until 1 p.m.
"The heaviest snow is going to be falling [Tuesday night]. People can expect to see between eight and 10 inches on the ground by the morning," Guthrie said.
Snow will be transitioning to lake effect snow showers Wednesday afternoon with a 90 percent chance of snow with accumulation of one to three inches, according to the NWS. By the evening, there will be a 70 percent chance of snow with one to two inches possible.
Thanksgiving Day there is a 50 percent chance of snow decreasing during the day with partly sunny skies on Friday and no snow forecasted.
To add to the weather chaos, several power outages occurred across northern Mahoning Valley in the Struthers-Campbell area and southeast Mineral Ridge. Dave Turner, Ohio Edison area manager, said the earliest call he received was at 7 p.m. Tuesday and by 8 p.m. electricity had returned to some of the area.
Turner said about 80 customers were affected in the greater Youngstown area.
"I'll say it is storm-related outages. It's heavy, wet snow, which is typically optimal for downing limbs of trees and wires," he said.
Turner said there will likely continue to be outages as the weather becomes foul, but that workers will be out making repairs along the way. He was not able to give an estimated time for the return of power to the rest of the areas as of 8:30 p.m. Tuesday.
"Distractions are definitely a huge part of the problem now that technology has taken over. We're mirroring what the highway patrol says - not buckling up contributes to fatalities, so does alcohol," Hunt said.
Now with the winter storm and accumulating snow hindering the holiday cheer, Lt. Brian Holt of the Ohio State Patrol also advises every person to utilize the designated driver program.
He said there were 463 OVI arrests and 211 OVI crashes over the four-day period across Ohio last year. Of the 211 alcohol-related crashes, nine were fatal with 12 people killed. Seven of the 12 fatalities were at hands of impaired drivers.
Since Thanksgiving falls on a Thursday, AAA predicts today will be the busiest travel day, stating of the 43.4 million Americans traveling approximately 90 percent-38.9 million people-plan to make their journey by automobile.
The East North Central Region, including Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Michigan and Wisconsin, will see a total of 7.21 million travelers and 6.48 million motorists.
"Since 90 percent of travelers are driving, it's important for them to listen to radio broadcasts so they're aware of traffic tie-ups where they are at or are traveling to," Bevi Powell, senior vice president of AAA East Central, said. "Be aware of alternative routes in case there is a tie-up. Be aware of weather reports for where you're traveling to. And adjust your leave time for where you're leaving from and traveling to."
Powell also said GPS devices can act as a distraction for drivers, so bring a road companion to handle the GPS or other forms of directions.
With so many cars on the road, Hunt and Holt echo AAA and recommend driving at off-peak hours and avoiding the holiday rush if possible. AAA projects the highest amount of Americans plan to leave today and return Sunday or Monday, and inclement weather can be sporadic.
"With more snow and hazardous road conditions, we want to make sure people allow themselves plenty of time, and drive according to road conditions," Holt said.
Sgt. Vincent Shirey of the Columbus Public Affairs said some general tips for holiday travel and winter driving remain consistent each year. He said drivers should ensure their vehicle is in good condition for long distances, which means checking the battery, windshield wipers and no-freeze fluid in the washer reservoir, as well as checking the brakes and tire pressure.
"The most common service is checking your fluids and air pressure in tires," a sales associate at Expert Tire in Warren said. "It's common when the weather is cold that you can lose up to three pounds of pressure for every 10 degrees the ambient temperature drops."
The Ohio Department of Public Safety also recommends keeping the gas tank full in case the vehicle is stuck in snow and more fuel is needed to escape or keep warm. It suggests carrying items in the automobile in case of emergency, like shovels, scrapers, blankets, jumper cables and warning devices such as flares.
"Have a fully charged (cell phone) battery in case of a problem and you need to call for help. And abrasive material, like sand or kitty litter, in case you need to put it behind the tires," Powell said.
As traffic increases over the next few days, departments urge drivers to prioritize safety when celebrating with family and friends. To increase the chances of a safe arrival, regardless of the distance, they also want to remind motorists of the traffic laws and the lives saved by being stuffed into a seat belt.