Different parts of Ohio can have a “snow emergency” declared. Typically this is at the county level and can only be declared by a county sheriff. The most recent opinion of the Ohio Attorney General dealing with this was issued in 1997 by Betty Montgomery. A PDF rendering of the opinion is available. This opinion tells us that a Sheriff’s authority covers all roadways within the Sheriff’s county and refers back to the seminal opinion of 1986 setting out the whole “snow emergency” set of mechanisms.

The opinion from 1986, OAG 1986-023, was authored during the tenure of Anthony J. Celebreeze, Jr. as Ohio Attorney General. In general a Sheriff has the authority to close roads but the County Engineer does not when it comes to such weather-related emergencies. Both opinions root the Sheriff’s authority in statute and common law.

The Ohio Committee for Severe Weather Awareness has a list of the three levels of snow emergency posted that explain the gradations of severity. None of these resources explain the missing piece to the puzzle. A snow emergency is only good if you have sufficient manpower to enforce it.

The Sheriff of Ashtabula County actually has an announced policy of not declaring snow emergency levels. The land area of Ashtabula County is one half the size of the State of Rhode Island. Sheriff Billy Johnson simply does not have enough deputies to be able to enforce a snow emergency. I’m not sure having a heavy battalion of national guardsmen to back him up would be enough. Due to cuts in funding levels the Sheriff of Lake County and the Sheriff of Geauga County do not necessarily have enough personnel themselves to make it stick if they made declarations, too.

Lake, Geagua, and Ashtabula counties are the “primary snow belt” for Lake Effect Snow from Lake Erie. We get dumped on heavily. While multiple windward counties do have snow emergencies declared they also have enough sheriff’s deputies to be able to enforce snow emergencies there. Here in the leeward counties we’re going to potentially get dumped on but all we can do is advise motorists to drive safely and tell them to pack survival gear for the possibility of breaking down. The lack of such road emergency declarations in our three county area should not be construed as an indication of things being fine at all but rather that local law enforcement lacks resources to spend enforcing such matters.

This incident is expected to continue. A copy of the most recent bulletin from the National Weather Service follows.

URGENT - WINTER WEATHER MESSAGE
National Weather Service Cleveland OH
1038 PM EST Thu Feb 27 2020

...Lake Effect Snow Will Impact the Primary Snowbelt...

.Lake effect snow will continue to develop off of Lake Erie into
Saturday. Latest forecasts indicate that there will be several
enhanced periods of heavy snow. Ongoing snow across the snowbelt
will begin to diminish overnight as drier air arrives. A heavier
west to east band will set up near or just east of Cleveland for
the morning commute. A surface trough will cross the area on
Friday with the lake effect bands likely focusing near the
lakeshore. In the wake of the trough Friday evening into Saturday
there will once again be an increase in the lake effect snow
coverage. The secondary snowbelt may be impacted Friday night.

OHZ011>014-089-281145-
/O.CON.KCLE.LE.W.0002.000000T0000Z-200229T2300Z/
Cuyahoga-Lake-Geauga-Ashtabula Inland-Ashtabula Lakeshore-
Including the cities of Cleveland, Mentor, Chardon, Jefferson,
and Ashtabula
1038 PM EST Thu Feb 27 2020

...LAKE EFFECT SNOW WARNING REMAINS IN EFFECT UNTIL 6 PM EST
SATURDAY...

* WHAT...Heavy lake effect snow occurring. Additional snow
  accumulations Tonight into Friday of 2 to 6 inches with locally
  higher amounts. For Friday night into Saturday additional snow
  amounts of 2 to 6 inches with the greatest amounts focused over
  the higher terrain. Westerly winds gusting as high as 30 mph
  through Friday morning.

* WHERE...Lake, Geauga, Cuyahoga, Ashtabula Inland and Ashtabula
  Lakeshore counties.

* WHEN...Until 6 PM EST Saturday. A heavier band of snow will set
  up near or east of Cleveland Friday morning and may impact the
  commute.

* IMPACTS...Travel could be very difficult where heavy snow bands
  develop. Areas of blowing snow could significantly reduce
  visibility. The hazardous conditions could impact the morning
  commute on Friday.

* ADDITIONAL DETAILS...Wind chills tonight will fall into the
  single digits.

PRECAUTIONARY/PREPAREDNESS ACTIONS...

If you must travel, keep an extra flashlight, food, and water in
your vehicle in case of an emergency.

The latest road conditions for the state you are calling from can
be obtained by calling 5 1 1.

&&