Colossal snowstorm strands motorists on Kentucky highways

Michael Walsh
Vehicles are stuck in the snow along Interstate 65 near Lebanon Junction, Ky., Thursday, March 5, 2015, Some motorist spent the night in their cars and began to run out of gas Thursday morning.

Many motorists were stranded in fast-accumulating snow on a Kentucky highway when Winter Storm Thor brought down its hammer.

Vehicles could be seen parked on a stretch of Interstate 65 for 10 miles north and south of Elizabethtown in the northern part of the state — some say for more than 12 hours.

Cory Reeves, of Nashville, Tenn., is stuck on a tour bus that came to a halt near the I-65/Preston Highway intersection around 11 p.m. on Wednesday night because of the snowfall.

“The interstate is shut down and from what we've heard, the roads and on ramps are trying to be cleared as soon as possible,” Reeves wrote in an email to Yahoo News. “The two travel centers near us are swarming with people and a good majority of the food has been sold. A lot of people have run out of gas and have had to leave their cars on the side of the road.”

Kentucky National Guard spokesman Lt. Col. Kirk Hilbrecht says troops were deployed early on Thursday morning to clear away accidents, starting with a tractor-trailer that jackknifed; provide relief for the stranded drivers and take them to warming centers; and help ambulances travel between crash sites and hospitals in Hardin and Marshall counties.

“This is the second storm of its kind in less than a month. We’re still kind of recovering from the first storm,” Hilbrecht told Yahoo News. “Even though they were trying to pretreat the storm, the salt didn’t stick. It was pouring down rain, which froze and became ice.”

Hilbrecht, who did not immediately have an estimate for how many motorists were stuck, said they were also responding to a similar situation on Interstate 24 between the 16 and 66 mile markers.

The snow fell so quickly on Wednesday night that the snow plows could not keep up, he said.

“We’ve had anywhere from 8 to 13 inches,” says Kevin Deitsch, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service’s Louisville Weather Forecast Office. “When you go south of the metro area, near Elizabethtown, they’ve had upward of 20 inches there.”

The Louisville area was hit with 1 to 3 inches of rain on Wednesday morning and afternoon before transitioning to sleet in the midafternoon and eventually to snow, Deitsch says.

What is left of the snow, which is tapering off, has moved east past I-65, so Louisville should not anticipate additional accumulation, he says.

But low temperatures will prevent the snow from melting away immediately.

“We’re looking at highs in the mid-20s, which is about 30 degrees below normal,” Deitsch said. “In Louisville, we’re looking at two degrees but areas outside the city could get five below zero, which could be an all-time cold record for March.”

Tony Edwards, a meteorologist for the NWS forecast center in Jackson, told Yahoo News that eastern Kentucky was similarly hit with a heavy rainfall that segued into sleet and snow.

“The river flooding has been pretty extensive,” he said.

Tow trucks are still clearing tractor-trailers from roads across the state so that the remaining motorists can finally drive to their destinations.

“The traffic is moving, slowly but surely, on I-24 as well as I-65,” Hilbrecht informed Yahoo News just before 4 p.m. ET Thursday.

More than 50 miles of Interstate 65 southbound in Kentucky is shut down from the weather, Thursday, March 5, 2015, in Mt. Washington, Ky. Kentucky State Police has reported that the interstate will not reopen for six to eight hours. Kentucky has been walloped by a winter storm that has dumped almost 2 feet of snow in parts of the Bluegrass State. (AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley)