For about 20 years, the state of Ohio has had a Snow Emergency procedure in which the sheriff of each county can declare Level 1, Level 2 or Level 3 to alert motorists of driving conditions.

I lived and worked as a newspaper reporter in Ohio when that system was introduced. As a result, I have heard every possible concern, question and complaint about such announcements that included “Can the county sheriff really order a business closed because of snowstorm?”

To be fair: the county sheriff doesn’t actually close a business.

But as a practical matter, any business or workplace that expects its employees to report to work during Level 3 conditions better be prepared to explain to a municipal court judge as to why that employee meets the criteria of emergency personnel, and therefore should not face a misdemeanor citation of “misconduct at an emergency.”

After Ohio residents learned what the alerts meant, and that Level 3 rules would be enforced, the businesses, churches, event committees, offices, day care centers, etc., put into their safety plans as to what happens at what emergency level.

For example, a club that I belong to in Toledo has decided all meetings and activities would be canceled at Level 2 or Level 3 for the three counties that most members live in.

And when I worked as a news reporter in Ohio, I was given a written pass to carry in my wallet that explained I was allowed to be on the road during Level 3 and why.

So how does this Ohio policy affect Michigan residents?

First, many of us who live in Monroe County are aware of this procedure. Those who live south of Monroe are far more likely to watch Toledo TV stations than the Detroit TV stations and see those announcements. In addition, a lot of area residents drive across the state line for work, family, school or shopping.

The problem is that no similar procedure exists in Michigan. Instead, there is a lot of second-guessing involving road conditions on this side of the state line.

I heard a lot of chatter about that in connection with Saturday’s storm.

One example was a club officer who called me Friday at The Monroe News office, asking for suggestions for cancellation procedures for a scheduled get-together on Saturday because her group normally relies on school closings as a guide. As she pointed out, there is no school anyway on Saturday.

To be fair, even on a school day, morning closings and delays are not always applicable later in the day. Sometimes winter travel is fine after morning rush hour is done and school is canceled, sometimes the conditions get much worse.

Another conversation along those lines happened on a local Facebook group I belong to. Someone asked shortly before noon Saturday what the road conditions were like in the Frenchtown Township shopping district, as she needed to run errands. Several people chimed in with road conditions they had seen this morning, and I pointed out that a winter storm warning had just been issued.

The bigger issue involves your pocketbook.

Unless the residential streets are in passable condition, and the highways safe for travel, employees will have difficulty getting to work. If they call off, that usually means lost pay or lost vacation time. It might even result in an unexcused absence on an employee record.

Therefore, if you are likely to have a work shift during a snowstorm, and especially if you cross the state line during your commute, you need to come up with as many alternative plans as possible. For example:

  • Some of you can work from home. I can do quite a bit from my home office, as long as I have an Internet connection. I can do more if I have my work laptop. That being said, I live close enough to the newspaper building that I could walk to work and have done so during heavy winter storms while those who live farther away figure out their logistics or wait it out.
  • Another suggestion is find out which of your family members, friends and co-workers has a vehicle that can drive through the worst conditions. My dad has put his sport utility vehicle into action several times to help family members who needed to get to work or be picked up after the roads got bad.
  • In addition, northwest Ohio and southeast Michigan residents who commute should be prepared to get a hotel room or camp out with friends or relatives if the weather worsens quickly. This happened twice to my husband after we moved to Michigan, but he was commuting to a job in Ohio. He would have rather made it home than stay overnight with relatives, but driving conditions on those two occasions just didn’t permit that.
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