INDIANAPOLIS – Up to a foot of wind-whipped snow blanketed parts of southern Indiana, and rare blizzard conditions prompted travel warnings Wednesday, after the region experienced its heaviest winter storm in years.
Indianapolis had 7 inches of snow on the ground by 10 a.m. and at one time received as much as 3 inches of snow in a single hour, said John Kwiatkowski, a National Weather Service meteorologist in the city.
The snowstorm was particularly treacherous because of high winds of 25 to 30 mph, with gusts of up to 40 mph, in the state capital.
"The way I've been describing it is as a low-end blizzard, but that's sort of like saying a small Tyrannosaurus rex. Just to become a blizzard is quite an accomplishment. And it's sure a heck of a lot more than we've seen," Kwiatkowski said.
A blizzard warning was in effect until Wednesday evening for much of Indiana's southern two-thirds, and more than a dozen counties issued watches advising against anything but essential travel.
Up to 12 inches of snow buried Knox and Greene counties in southwest Indiana by late morning, Kwiatkowski said. Greene County officials closed all county roads except to emergency service and private health care workers.
"It's a nightmare for the sheriff," said Roger Axe, the county's emergency management director.
On the south side of Indianapolis, where most businesses and restaurants were closed because of the storm, a few motorists crept along streets filled with drifts and lumps of snow. Roadside ditches were littered with cars that had slid off or were involved in accidents.
"It's ugly out," said Elizabeth Brinker, 26, who was hurrying to reach her car in a downtown parking garage after the law firm where she works sent employees home early.
Six to 10 inches of snow was expected to fall Wednesday in central Indiana, with the heaviest amounts expected south and southeast of Indianapolis, weather service meteorologist Jason Puma said.
By late morning, Interstate 65 and Interstate 465 on Indianapolis' south side were covered in drifts so deep that motorists had to follow in each other's tire tracks.
State police Sgt. Curt Durnil said about 40 vehicles were stuck Wednesday morning on Indiana 37 near the Monroe-Morgan county line between Bloomington and Martinsville because they couldn't make it up a hill on the slick road.
He said it was expected to take a couple hours for state highway crews to clear the south-central Indiana roadway.
Schools and many businesses were closed for Christmas break, and many state and local government offices told non-essential employees to stay home.
The snowfall, meanwhile, was welcomed at southern Indiana's ski slopes.
Lauren Grenier, whose husband is the general manager of Paoli Peaks about 90 miles south of Indianapolis, said a couple of inches of snow had fallen on the resort and that another half foot was forecast.
"There's a small blizzard going on down here right now. ... This is good news for us," she said.
Chip Perfect of Perfect North Slopes said the storm is also expected to dump a half-foot of snow on the Lawrenceburg-area resort in southeast Indiana.
Perfect said the storm, like all snowstorms, would keep some people away at first.
"The first day of a snowstorm it tends to reduce the crowd, but it'll be on the ground and it will on the ground in people's minds for the rest of the week, so each day we'll build and for us the timing's good," he said.
Charles Wilson and Tom Davies of the Associated Press in Indianapolis contributed to this report.