WHAT DOES IT MEAN?: State of Emergency, travel warning issued for Columbia City, Whitley County

WHITLEY COUNTY — With Northeast Indiana reaching the end of Winter Storm Ion, officials are working to keep citizens safe and informed.A Level 1 State of Emergency has been issued for all of Whitley County, including Columbia City, South Whitley and Churubusco. The declaration was a joint decision between Whitley County Commissioners, Columbia City Mayor Ryan Daniel and Emergency Management Director Cathy Broxon-Ball, who all were hard at work Sunday afternoon, monitoring the storm as it blew through the county.With the Level 1 Emergency also came a Travel Warning, meaning no citizens should be on the roadways — excluding healthcare workers and emergency personnel.Whitley County Commissioner Don Amber said the decision wasn’t taken lightly.“This storm and the sub-zero temperatures we’re about to endure are really, really dangerous and must be taken seriously,” Amber said. “We don’t like having to declare the emergency, but we do it in hopes that someone will decide driving isn’t worth the risk, and stay home instead of going out and getting stuck.”Since the emergency was declared, many have questioned whether or not they should go to work. While local officials can’t tell a person whether or not they should go to work, they do suggest that employers consider the safety of their employees.“Our police chief is asking businesses to stay closed until the emergency is over,” Columbia City Mayor Ryan Daniel said. “We want to keep people off the streets for their safety, but also so our street crews can work efficiently to clear the roadways.”Daniel said many have questioned whether or not they can get a ticket for driving to work. “Excluding healthcare workers — technically you can,” Daniel said. “Our guys aren’t out actively looking for people to write tickets to, that’s not the point. But we did not take the emergency declaration lightly.”According to Indiana Code, law enforcement officers can issue traffic tickets for people for driving on the road during a declared emergency.“I know there have been some discussions about tickets — we don’t want to do that,” Daniel said. “But at the same time, we are urging businesses to close until at least noon tomorrow, when the emergency is lifted.”While Noble County has been suffering from power outages, as of Sunday evening, Whitley County’s power has been OK.Several different electric companies serve Whitley County, and officials urge citizens to be aware of what company they receive power from before the power goes out.Daniel said he doesn’t foresee any issues with Columbia City’s utilities, but the weather can be unpredictable.“If temperatures plummet, there’s always a concern with water main breaks,” Daniel said. “From the Electric Department's standpoint, the wind with ice on the power lines could do some damage. Especially if tree limbs start falling.”Daniel said as of Sunday at 9:30 p.m., there haven’t been any major outages in the city.“If your power does go out, my first suggestion would be to find a way to stay warm in case it doesn’t come back on very quickly,” Daniel said. “Our guys would be working as hard and quickly as possible, but with the conditions being what they are, it may take awhile to get the power restored.”Both city and county offices are closed tomorrow. Daniel said Columbia City’s Street Department began working at 2:30 p.m. today and will work until 11 p.m., take a short break and return at 3 a.m.“We’re trying to give them rest, but at the same time we need them out on the roads,” Daniel said.The county, however, is dealing with a different situation — drifting snow.While drifting isn’t as bad within the city limits, county roads are quickly covered over after being plowed.County officials elected to hold off on snow plowing until 6 a.m. Monday, in hopes of improved conditions.“Our plows are off the road but several drivers have taken them home to respond to emergency calls,” Amber said. “It is much too dangerous to have them out in the dark — visibility with blowing snow is almost zero.”While vehicles aren't allowed on the roadways, snowmobiles are, but officials advise drivers to use caution, and make sure their snowmobiles are legally registered.