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As Kentuckians woke up Saturday morning to snow still on the ground, officials around the commonwealth were encouraging residents to stay off the roads as they continued clearing cars.
Stalled vehicles on I-71 North Friday in Gallatin County resulted in a 14 mile long backup on US 127 as drivers were rerouted to avoid the area.
As of 2 p.m. Saturday, those backups saw significant improvement as Kentucky State Police and Kentucky National Guard directed drivers from the area and salt trucks treated one lane of I-71 North to allow for easier travel, according to a release from the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet.
A detour is in place at mile marker 55 telling drivers to go to exit 55 and from there, travel onto I-71 South.
Gov. Andy Beshear said during a briefing Saturday morning that there were 700 vehicles in the I-71 backup. Kentucky State Police officers, National Guard troops and local first responders checked on people in the vehicles and passed out blankets and water, Beshear said.
Drivers in the area should call 911 if they experience an emergency like running out of gas, losing heat in their vehicle or have a medical emergency. Be prepared to give 911 operators your license plate number and make of your vehicle.
We want to apologize to anyone disturbed by tonight’s emergency alert regarding the closure of 71.
Currently, 100s of families, stretching for approximately six miles on 71, are stranded while we work alongside our state partners to get them off the road and into warmth.
— KYEM (@KentuckyEM) December 24, 2022
Other interstate closures around Kentucky include:
I-65 northbound in Hardin County at mile marker 91
I-65 northbound in Edmonson County at mile marker 43 (right lane blocked)
I-65 southbound in Hart County at mile marker 52
Beshear and other state officials continued to stress that people should avoid travel if possible. In addition to being the safest thing to to, avoiding travel will help crews clear roads and keep down accidents that tie up police and other responders, officials said.
Transportation Secretary Jim Gray said he saw two cars slide off Interstate 64 as he traveled from Lexington to Frankfort for the briefing with Beshear.
“The main message to Kentuckians is stay home, stay safe, stay alive,” Beshear said. “Folks, it is still very dangerous. Don’t travel if you don’t have to.”
Beshear said he would issue an order putting the speed limit on I-71 at 45 miles per hour when the road reopens. That will extend from the I-71/I-75 interchange in Northern Kentucky to the Watterson Expressway in Louisville.
Officials said that warmer temperatures expected on Christmas Day will help chemicals used in road treatments work better.
Several areas of Lexington and the state experienced power outages Friday afternoon and evening, leading power companies to ask residents to reduce their electricity use for the next 24 hours.
“Extremely cold temperatures across the region have created extraordinary demands on the power system. We are asking businesses and the public to help by immediately reducing electricity use as much as possible without sacrificing safety,” Kentucky Power, which serves 20 counties in northeastern and Eastern Kentucky, said in a news release.
Kentucky Power and PJM, the region’s power grid operator, directed residents to reduce their electricity by setting their thermostat to lower than usual temperatures (if their health allows), hold off on using large appliances like stoves, dishwasher and dryers, and turn off lights and equipment that don’t require use.
Residents are asked to limit their power until 10 a.m. Sunday to “reduce overall demand for electricity and ease the emergency situation,” the release stated.
If these actions aren’t enough, the release said, PJM will tell Kentucky Power to perform targeted outages to avoid widespread outages and stop any long-term damage to the power grid.
“We are actively working with PJM and other regional utilities to minimize the impact of this event on our customers,” said Brett Mattison, Kentucky Power president and chief operating officer. “We understand that cutting back on use of electricity can be inconvenient and uncomfortable, especially during the holidays. This is a necessary step to prevent broader power interruptions, and we appreciate our customers’ efforts.”
LG&E and Kentucky Utilities performed outages Friday night for similar reasons. They were expected to last about 30 minutes.
Here are some online resources where residents can track power outages across the state:
Kentucky Power: www.kentuckypower.com/outages/status
LG&E-Kentucky Utilities: stormcenter.lge-ku.com/
All others: poweroutage.us.
Beshear said during his briefing at 10 a.m. Saturday that 43,289 customers in Kentucky were without power. As with utility officials, he urged people to turn down thermostats and turn off unnecessary lights.
“We expect for it to be touch and go today and into tomorrow,” he said of the stress on the power grid, “but it’s not an extended period of time.”
Jeremy Slinker, head of Kentucky Emergency Management, said during the briefing that several families staying in travel trailers as a result of losing their homes during flooding in Eastern Kentucky last summer faced problems because of frozen water lines or furnaces that went out.
Agency employees passed out water to people and fixed furnaces or provided alternate heat sources in several cases, but at one site, in Breathitt County, state police and officers from the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources evacuated eight families to the lodge at Buckhorn State resort Park in Perry County, Slinker said.
A wind chill advisory was issued for much of Central Kentucky until 1 p.m. Saturday, according to the National Weather Service Louisville office.
The area is expected to see “bitter cold” wind chills 10 or 20 degrees below zero. Temperatures are expected to stay low through the weekend and more snow could fall on Monday, NWS said.
Merry Christmas Eve! Partly sunny and a little warmer today with highs in the teens to the lower 20s. #kywx #inwx pic.twitter.com/0ifNw8UxHh
— NWS Louisville (@NWSLouisville) December 24, 2022