FORT WAYNE – Well, denial didn't work.
The forecasters all said it would happen, but – especially when the temperature Tuesday was 53 – it was impossible to believe Mother Nature would really dump 5 to 8 inches of snow on us. She did, and with a vengeance.
By midmorning Wednesday, Fort Wayne city offices were preparing to close for the day, and city officials were encouraging all businesses to do the same. By Wednesday afternoon, even the trees were giving up – the wet, heavy snow was snapping off branches, which inevitably fell onto power lines.
The few motorists who did venture out discovered a nasty surprise underneath all that wet, heavy snow: frozen slush. It created a pitted, rutted, slippery surface that sent vehicles in seemingly random directions, no matter how carefully drivers maneuvered. Police spent the day dealing with too many slide-offs to count, not to mention some more unique incidents, such as semis stuck in the snow on Interstate 69 off-ramps.
And lest you think Mother Nature has no sense of humor at all, on Wednesday morning, the National Weather Service issued a flood warning for several rivers in the region, though none are expected to cause problems.
But there may be hope: The first day of spring is just one week away, and Friday's high temperature is expected to be 46.
Par for the course
Lori Fulk is hedging her bets.
The window at her True Value hardware store in downtown Churubusco appears ready for spring – seed packets, bags of potting soil and planters fill the one closest to the front door.
But off to the left, she still has a display of sleds, snow disks and ice chippers, just in case.
Max Hart, Fulk's mother's fiancé, shoveled the store's sidewalk Wednesday morning and had just a couple of words to say about the weather.
"It sucks," he said, laughing as he pushed another pile of snow toward the curb.
Inside the store, Fulk had a gift for understatement in speaking about the weather.
"It has been an unusually trying winter situation," she said, laughing.
She'd averaged only one customer an hour Wednesday morning, another slow day.
It's been par for the course over the past few months. Residents in the rural community have not done much shopping at her small store this season, and it hasn't picked up the way it normally does as spring draws closer.
Fulk blames not just the snow but the high propane costs as well.
"It's more important to keep your heat on than fix a leaky faucet," she said.
Not going anywhere
It had to be disheartening for drivers during morning rush hour.
With motorists trying to keep their tires in the icy ruts about 9 a.m., there was a not-so-subtle warning to slow down near Covington Plaza.
In the median of West Jefferson Boulevard was a snowplow, its lights flashing, stuck fender-deep in the snow.
Traffic was moving about 25 mph to 30 mph. But at least it was moving. The plow wasn't going anywhere.
'This is our job'
From dawn to dusk Wednesday, the Fort Wayne Street Department was plowing and salting streets to keep up with the heavy snow that fell most of the morning and early afternoon.
City crews plowed and then salted streets, starting with the arterial roads, then working their way to the bus routes and residential areas.
City worker Tyrone Woods was driving his front-loader at the city garage on Murray Street around 3 p.m., topping off plow trucks with salt before they went back to their routes.
"The snow came in early this morning, and we've been hauling to get it cleared," Woods said.
In the 36 years Woods has worked for the city, this has been the worst series of snowstorms he can remember.
"We all are tired, but this is our job, and we're going to do it," Woods said.
Cars in a ditch
Snow-covered slush caught a lot of drivers off guard Wednesday morning, sending many off the road and into ditches and medians, where the wait to get out was long.
Blue Eagle Towing on East Pontiac Street said it had pulled 27 cars out of ditches by early afternoon – and that the wait for a tow truck was two to three hours.
Pro-Tow on Moeller Road pulled about 40 cars out of ditches, and the wait for a truck from them wasn't three hours, but it was close, the company said.
In addition to eight traffic signals being out because of power outages, many north-facing signals couldn't be seen because they were covered by snow.
By late afternoon, crews had managed to clear one signal off, but city officials expected bucket trucks to be out all night cleaning off the others.
Winter just won't let go.
But that was OK with Paul James on Wednesday. The Fort Wayne father sledded with his two sons and tossed snowballs since they didn't have to report to Maplewood Elementary School.
"I got off work earlier and the boys were home, so I just had to come out and play," James said.
M & S Excavating snowplow driver Matt Fretz had no time to play. He has moved tons on the white stuff this winter, and while Wednesday was no different, even he had to ask, "Really?"
"We're a construction company and we just do this on the side, but this year, it seems like it's the main business," Fretz said.
He spent more than five hours clearing the parking lot at the Parkwest shopping plaza, across from Jefferson Pointe.
"The snow just keeps coming," Fretz said.
Climbing to the top
Chase Scheele, 6, and his younger brother had been out for about an hour Wednesday afternoon when they'd had enough of this sledding deal.
Going down the Franke Park hill was fun, Chase said.
But carrying the sleds all the way back up? Not so much.
Graham Scheele, 2, seemed to agree, though he was a bit too busy eating the snow to answer many questions.
It tastes like cotton candy, he said, picking up another pinch of white, fluffy snow and sticking out his tongue to watch it melt.
"It's goooooood," he offered.
City officials had closed the sledding hill at Franke Park because of "dangerous circumstances," but that didn't stop dozens of snow enthusiasts from dragging out their sleds and making the climb to the top.
The Scheele boys wandered a few feet off the beaten sledding path and began making snowmen, snow angels and snowballs.
Soon they discovered another fun game – bury brother in the snow.
Not every employer could give workers the day off Wednesday. Lincoln National Corp. has some employees critical to the company's operations – regardless of wind, rain or snow.
The financial services company processes hundreds of millions of dollars in same-day cash and securities transactions at the Fort Wayne offices, said Nancy Jordan, senior vice president and head of the individual annuity operations.
When markets are open, the trades must go on.
Lincoln officials watch weather forecasts and reserve rooms in the downtown Courtyard by Marriott and Hilton Fort Wayne hotels for those critical employees, when necessary.
Wednesday marks the fifth night this year that Lincoln has housed employees in hotels. Jordan said 50 workers were scheduled to stay over on Wednesday. They also received dinner and breakfast the next morning, courtesy of the company.
Lincoln paid for 231 total hotel nights in January and 312 in February, she said. As you might have guessed, the 2014 total, Jordan said, is higher than any other year.
Rebecca S. Green, Ron Shawgo, Kara Hackett, Frank Gray, Paul Wyche, Julie Crothers and Sherry Slater contributed to this story.