HAZARD — Winter weather can create serious problems for folks in the mountains, especially when the storm is so powerful meteorologists give it a name; Winter Storm Jonas. However, mountain folks are no strangers to storms. In times of treacherous conditions, the people of Perry County often show inspiring resiliency that not even the likes of Jonas can crumble. Such was the case this past weekend.
Preparations for the storm began nearly a week prior to its arrival. Meteorologists gave around the clock updates on how much precipitation each area should expect and what time commuters could anticipate the precipitation to begin falling. Stores were flooded with customers stocking up on essentials they felt were necessary when trapped at home for several days, possibly without electricity. At approximately 5:00 p.m. on Jan. 21, which was the evening prior to Jonas’s arrival, the checkout lines at the Hazard Walmart were backed up into the clothing department, which is a spectacle store employees said they usually only see during the Christmas rush.
The first droplets of ice and sleet started to pelt Perry County around 3:00 a.m. on Jan. 22. By then most schools, businesses and scheduled events had already announced closures and cancellations. Normally, the parking lot of the Hazard Village Shopping Center is packed on a Friday afternoon. However, on Jan. 22, the snow covered parking lot remained vacant. Most business managers shut down for the day and instructed their employees to stay off the roads and out of danger.
Emergency declarations at both the county and statewide levels were put into place before the snow stopped falling. Highway 80 between London and Somerset closed to oncoming traffic, as did Interstate 75 in Rockcastle County and also near Kentucky’s border with Tennessee. Motionless vehicles were lined bumper to bumper for miles down the highway.
Local fire departments established warming stations at each end of Perry County for citizens who might have been without heat throughout the storm. In the southern end of Perry County, the Viper Volunteer Fire Department opened its doors as a warming shelter and the Grapevine/Chavies Fire Department did the same in the northern section of the county.
In Perry County, there were fewer traffic accidents and power outages reported than local officials expected. Road crews experienced a few equipment malfunctions and civilian vehicles required towing assistance on an abundance of roads, but the majority of local accidents did not produce major injuries to drivers. Such was not the case in other parts of the state, as a snow plow caught on fire in Johnson County and a state worker in Christian County died while plowing snow from the highway.
The estimated accumulation totals for Perry County measured 8” to 12” of snow. For the Eastern Kentucky Region, 2015 now holds the record for most snowfall recorded during the month of January, thanks to Jonas. The region as a whole has received an average of 18.5” of snow thus far into January, which beats the previous record of 16.4” measured in Jan. of 1996.
First responders were on the job, as they always are. Road crews also remained scattered across the mountains battling through Jonas’s aftermath. This year, the heroes in many Perry County communities were citizens with ATVs, who volunteered their time in dangerous conditions to help clear roads and driveways for their neighbors. As of Sunday, temperatures remained well below freezing and several roads were still icy.
The sun finally made an appearance and temperatures rose to nearly 50 degrees on Monday and Tuesday. Judge Scott Alexander stated at the Jan. 26 fiscal court meeting that he believes county roads should be clear for the most part as of Tuesday afternoon. Businesses open and Perry County is once again showing signs of livelihood.
Winter Storm Jonas could have been much worse. The people of Perry County are the reason it was not. The folks, who could, practiced caution and stayed home throughout the treacherous conditions. Many people took the time to build snowmen and sled with their children. Turning a potentially terrible situation into a treasured time to share with family is a part of Perry County people’s nature that makes us both gentle and strong.
Sam Neace can be reached at 606-629-3243 and on Twitter @HazardHerald.