INDIANAPOLIS — Much of Indiana took the day after Christmas off as a rare blizzard swirled across the state Wednesday, dumping snow deep enough to strand snowplows in some areas and making travel treacherous for those returning home from holiday visits.
About a foot of wet snow fell in an area from around Vincennes, in southwestern Indiana, eastward through the Bloomington and Nashville areas, the National Weather Service said.
By Wednesday evening, the snow had stopped falling in central Indiana and officials said that it was safe to travel cautiously.
"I think the roads will be OK as long as people drive appropriately for conditions," said Nathan Riggs, a spokesman for the state Department of Transportation.
The blizzard warning that had covered the southern two-thirds of the state was lifted by mid-afternoon as the storm system mostly pushed east of the state.
But snow was still falling in eastern Indiana, where state police Sgt. John Bowling said Interstate 70 and other roads remained snow-covered and some north-south highways were down to a single lane. Roads near Richmond, Connersville and Liberty were especially treacherous, he said.
Allen County Sheriff's Department spokesman Jeremy Tinkle said officers were responding to many more accidents than normal in the Fort Wayne area.
"They're doing the best they can to get to them," he said. "Obviously, the road conditions are deteriorating."
A foot of snow fell in southwest Indiana near Vincennes, where INDOT spokeswoman Cher Elliott said roads were restricted to wheel paths and some were packed with snow despite 140 trucks plowing the region's highways.
"Our roadways are, I'm gonna use the term impassable. We need people to stay at home," said Knox County Emergency Management Agency spokeswoman Kellie Streeter.
"We've got plows that are getting stuck," she said.
Knox County was one of several counties that declared snow emergencies and limited travel, although many had lifted restrictions by late afternoon. Only about 50 miles south of Vincennes, in the Evansville area, state police Sgt. Todd Ringle said most major highways were merely wet or slushy by Wednesday evening.
About 40 vehicles were stuck for a few hours Wednesday morning on Indiana 37 between Bloomington and Martinsville when they couldn't make it up an ice-covered hill, said state police First Sgt. Dennis Kirkman.
"There's always people who don't pay attention or who've got four-wheel drive and think that they're immune to everything," Kirkman said.
State troopers responded to more than 200 accidents in the Indianapolis area Wednesday — about 10 times the normal number, Capt. Dave Bursten said. But no major injuries were reported.
Travel was light because schools and many businesses were already closed for Christmas break, and many state and local government offices told non-essential employees to stay home.
The Indianapolis weather office reported 7.3 inches of snow by late Wednesday afternoon — the heaviest amount since a January 2009 storm dumped about a foot of snow on the capital — and little additional accumulation was expected, meteorologist Dave Tucek said.
Matt Ostermeyer, a 28-year-old post-graduate student at Indiana University, said he had to hold a sack of groceries over his head Wednesday as he high-stepped through thigh-deep snowdrifts on his way back from a Bloomington grocery store.
Ostermeyer said he walked the quarter-mile to the supermarket because the stores were all closed Christmas night when he drove home from his father's home in Fort Wayne.
"My refrigerator and cupboards were empty, so I just had to get out," he said.
But the storm 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 the half foot of snow forecast for the resort was certain to boost business in the days ahead.
"There's a small blizzard going on down here right now," she said. "This is good news for us."