By RICK HAYES
MT. VERNON — Dealt a major blow by ‘Ole Man Winter, local officials are doing the best they can to cope with deplorable weather conditions.
It’s all due to the major winter storm that swept through the state overnight Saturday and Sunday.
There have been some reports of power outages due to the storm, including the Whittington area which was without power for about two hours Sunday night due to a scheduled maintenance outage.
Tri-County Electric Cooperative has had “scattered outages,” since the storm began, according to General Manager Marcia Scott. Tri-County serves Jefferson, Marion and Washington counties.
“Our worst problems have been in Marion County, in the Kinmundy-Omega areas,” she said, adding that crews have been out since about noon Sunday.
“Most of the outages have been due to icing on the lines and the wind, causing a galloping conductor, and we’ve had a lot of blinking lines,” she said, when power goes off and on intermittently.
Meanwhile, city and state crews are working on clearing roadways — plagued by sub-zero temperatures.
“We’re plowing the snow drifts and trying to stay warm. Saturday there were 10 people working, but we’ve been full staff since then on the roads and all the equipment is out. Salt and sand is basically a waste of time. We’re pushing snow and throwing some down, but the salt won’t work if the temperatures are below 15 degrees,” said Dale Mick, assistant Public Works department director for the City of Mt. Vernon.
“The temperatures are too low for the chemicals to work on the roads. We’re working to maintain what we’ve got, and plan to hit it hard Tuesday. We should be able to clean it up Tuesday. Right now we’re trying to keep the drifting clear of the roads,” said Kirk Harris, field technician out of the District 9 IDOT office in Carbondale.
Also, there have been some water main breaks.
“Most of them are what we call square breaks. The ground freezes and puts pressure on the pipes and they break. We’re fixing them as they happen,” according to Jeff Wielt, assistant Public Utilities department director for the City of Mt. Vernon.
Gov. Pat Quinn has declared a disaster declaration, while Illinois Department of Transportation officials are working around the clock to ensure motorist safety. Quinn implemented the State’s Continuity of Operations/Continuity of Government Plans. The inter-agency plans will ensure continued delivery of critical state response services during the severe winter conditions while ensuring the safety of the state’s workforce. State government employees — except those serving in critical government functions — were instructed to stay home on Monday.
In addition to making a disaster declaration due to the severe winter weather, the governor also activated the Illinois National Guard to provide aid.
The governor activated the State Emergency Operations Center in Springfield on Sunday night to coordinate the state’s response to the storm.
IDOT announced Monday it would continue to keep winter weather crews on the job as long as necessary to plow and salt. However, road conditions remain treacherous statewide, and motorists were being advised to stay home and travel only if absolutely necessary.
“With whiteout conditions in many areas across Illinois, motorists should be safe and stay off the roads,” stated Illinois Transportation Secretary Ann L. Schneider. “In addition to IDOT winter weather crews clearing the roadways, IDOT emergency personnel is working around the clock to assist with stranded motorists, vehicles in ditches and crashes statewide. If motorists absolutely must travel, they should use extreme caution, take it slow, buckle up and avoid distractions when behind the wheel.”
As of noon Monday, IDOT reported it had 1,755 trucks assigned to snow duty across the state, and nearly 3,700 full and part-time employees available to help ensure roads are clear and passable.
Ameren officials reported no outages in the immediate area. However, a scheduled outage occurred between 10 p.m. and midnight Sunday in the Whittington and Ewing area. Ameren said the repairs were need to “protect the power grid.”
Ameren stated it provides 24-hour warming centers in West City, Sesser and West Frankfort. For a complete list of warming centers in the state you may visit www2.illinois.gov/KeepWar/Pages/warmingcenter.aspx.
Other safety tips to remember during winter weather, provided by IDOT, includes:
n Allow extra time for travel during the winter months.
n Don’t crowd the plow — a snow plow operator’s field of vision is restricted. You may see them, but they may not see you.
n Take it slow when approaching intersections, off-ramps, bridges and shady areas — all are prone to black ice, which is often invisible.
n Always keep your tank at least two-thirds full to help prevent the vehicle’s fuel line from freezing.
n Do not travel during bad weather unless absolutely necessary — if you do have to make a trip, check the forecast and make sure someone is aware of your travel route and schedule.
n Always carry and emergency car care kit that includes jumper cables, flares or reflectors, windshield washer fluid, a small ice scraper, traction material, blankets, non-perishable food and a first aid kid.
n Carry a few extra blankets in your car, and perhaps an extra coat to ensure protection in case of a breakdown.