INDIANAPOLIS | Northwest Indiana was spared Wednesday from a winter storm that killed at least six people in southern states, closed businesses and made travel all but impossible in central and southern Indiana.
Much of the state was under a blizzard warning for most of the day, with wind gusts topping 35 mph, blowing snow across roads and runways and causing hundreds of spinouts and accidents as motorists struggled to return home after the holiday.
Northwest Indiana residents visiting relatives in central Indiana for Christmas did their best to enjoy the extra day together.
Amy Dance, of Crown Point, said she and her family, prevented from driving home Wednesday because of the blizzard, spent the day setting up their new tablet computers at her son’s home in Cicero, Ind., about 30 miles south of Kokomo.
“Thank God it was an electronic Christmas,” Dance said.
Her husband, David Dance, was scheduled to work at Chicago’s Midway Airport at 5 a.m. Thursday. She said they would check the road conditions late Wednesday before deciding whether to try driving home.
“I live right by I-65,” she said. “I’m not going to challenge it because I know what I-65 is like.”
John Kwiatkowski, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Indianapolis, said, "The way I've been describing it is as a low-end blizzard, but that's sort of like saying a small Tyrannosaurus rex."
He said the storm's winds were just high enough to classify the storm as a blizzard, making it the strongest snowstorm to hit the state’s capital city since 2009.
At midafternoon, travel was restricted to emergency personnel in 14 of Indiana’s 92 counties, roughly in a line from Gibson County in southwestern Indiana through Bloomington and into the south suburbs of Indianapolis. Drivers were advised to avoid unnecessary travel in all but the northern quarter of the state.
Light snow was reported in Valparaiso but most of the region saw no snow Wednesday. That’s a reversal of Indiana’s weather pattern over the past few years where lakefront counties have gotten socked with snow and the rest of the state has received little.
Just south of the region, the northbound and southbound lanes of Interstate 65 near Lafayette were closed for hours because of separate crashes involving eight vehicles in the northbound lanes and at least six in the southbound lanes. No injuries were immediately reported.
A jack-knifed semitrailer shut down westbound Interstate 465 on Indianapolis’ north side. A state trooper working a separate crash on eastbound I-465 was uninjured when his car was struck three times by other motorists.
State government and most Indianapolis-area businesses told their employees to stay home for the day after seeing the heavy, wet snow begin to pile up shortly after 4 a.m. region time.
Central Indiana shopping malls owned by Indianapolis-based Simon Malls were closed Wednesday, ruining many retailers’ after-Christmas sales.
Shelbyville’s Indiana Grand Casino, which never closes, shut down at 10:30 a.m. region time because of the storm. It is scheduled to reopen at 11 a.m. region time Thursday.
Even the NBA basketball matchup in Indianapolis between the Chicago Bulls and Indiana Pacers was postponed. A makeup date has not yet been set.
The winter storm, which brought severe thunderstorms and some three dozen tornadoes to Gulf Coast states on Tuesday, is set to hit New England and the East Coast on Thursday.
Two passengers in a car on a sleet-slickened Arkansas highway were killed Wednesday in a head-on collision, and two people, including a 76-year-old Milwaukee woman, were killed Tuesday on Oklahoma highways.
Deaths from wind-toppled trees were reported in Texas and Louisiana.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.