UPDATED 6:50 p.m. Thursday
Snowfall in East Central Illinois is making area interstates and roads slick and keeping emergency responders busy.
Illinois State Police and paramedics from area ambulance services were helping motorists on both I-74 and I-57 in Champaign County during the morning rush hour commute. Troopers reported responding to about 80 calls between 6 a.m. and 1 p.m. Thursday, including jackknifed semis and cars in ditches and medians. Of those, 16 involved injuries; 41 were property damage only.
Champaign County sheriff's deputies handled four calls during the morning commute but helped state troopers with several others. Champaign police handled about a half-dozen accidents between 7:40 and 10:15 a.m., only one with injuries which Lt. Dave Shaffer described as minor. And in Urbana, police handled only one accident in that same time frame.
Blowing snow was adding to the problems by reducing visibility and troopers were urging motorists to stay off the interstates if possible, especially since the forecast calls for increased blowing and drifiting.
Capt. Dennis Wood with the Vermilion County sheriff’s department said deputies have been dealing with accidents at intersections and on rural roads since about 8:30 Thursday morning, but said the activity was what the department normally sees when a storm like this moves in. He said there’s been light snow with heavy wind, causing intersections to ice and vehicles to slide through, and drivers who fail to slow down on rural roads and end up sliding into ditches.
He said the department has extra patrols out on the county’s roads helping motorists and handling accidents. Wood said deputies have helped state police with several accidents on Interstate 74, and they’ve handled several accidents on county roads and on the main highways leading into Danville. He said some accidents have resulted in minor injuries requiring an ambulance, but as of early afternoon, he was not aware of any serious injuries. He said most of the accidents they’ve handled have involved only property damage.
Danville Public Safety Director Larry Thomason said intersections have been slick, and drivers need to become familiar again with driving in such conditions. He said the department has been handling some accidents but only involving property damage, no injuries. He said he encourages drivers to slow down, especially as they approach intersections or are turning onto side streets and allow plenty of space between vehicles as they drive.
Wood said crews are out clearing roads, but they do expect some drifting on the more rural roads. He said he encourages people not to travel if they don’t have to. If they must, he said, drivers should have a full tank of gas, a blanket, a working cell phone and even a couple candy bars and bottle of water and take more well-traveled routes. Drivers who become stranded, he said, should turn on flashers and stay with the vehicle.
Rantoul Public Works Director Greg Hazel said a crew of four men plowed snow in the village throughout the afternoon.
“We had some minor drifting, primarily on the perimeter of the community,” Hazel said.
Hazel said the snow plow crew planned to take a break on Thursday evening and resume working after midnight.
A winter weather advisory is in effect for East Central Illinois until 6 a.m. Friday.
Snow is expected to develop along the Interstate 55 corridor and spread toward the Indiana border by midday. The snow will continue throughout the day before gradually tapering off to flurries Thursday night.
Total accumulations now are expected to be 2 to 4 inches, down from the 3 to 5 inches forecast on Wednesday.
Winds, though, are expected to cause problems, with 15- to 25-mph winds gusting to 30 mph causing blowing and drifting and wind chills in the single digits. Police advise allowing extra time to reach your destination, and drive with your headlights on (but remember to turn them off so you don't drain your car's battery when you arrive).
Champaign snow plows began pre-treating streets around 3 a.m. Thursday morning, and will continue plowing around the clock until the storm ends. Champaign officials plan to have primary routes cleared within 12 hours of the completion of the storm and secondary routes clear within 36 hours of the storm's end.
Stacy Rachel, administrative services supervisor for Champaign Public Works, said a crew of 15 snow plows will continue to remove snow from city streets until 11:30 p.m. Thursday. A second crew of 16 snow plows will start their shifts at 11:15 p.m. and are scheduled to work through the night.
City officials are requesting that residents remove cars from city streets so as to not interfere with plows. They also ask that drivers be careful and maintain distance from the plows.
If two or more inches of snow fall, the cities of Champaign and Urbana may activate their snow removal ordinances, which require property owners in several districts to clear their sidewalks. Neither city has activated its ordinance yet, and an announcement would typically come after the snow stops falling.
John Collins, operations manager for Urbana Public Works. said his crew began salting city streets at 4 a.m. Thursday. He reported minor snow drifting on the outskirts of the city.
One crew of 10 people was expected to plow snow until midnight. A second crew of 10 people was scheduled to begin a shift at midnight and work until 4 p.m. Friday, Collins said.