By RICK HAYES
MT. VERNON — —
A winter storm, packing a mix of rain, sleet, freezing rain and snow rocked the Southern Illinois region on Thursday.
Several schools cancelled classes early on Thursday, including Mt. Vernon Township High School and District 80 Schools. Rend Lake College was also not in session.
Several events scheduled for Thursday evening were canceled, including two committee meetings of the Jefferson County Board.
A winter storm warning for virtually the entire Southern Illinois region was in effect until 9 p.m. Thursday.
The storm had been predicted for several days, caused by a cold front from the north and east and warm air rising from the south.
WSIL TV meteorologist Jim Rasor said a strong low in Texas and rotation around it pushed warm, humid air on top of the region.
"We've had temperatures in the 20s the last three days and everything is frozen. If you get up 40,000 feet in the air, those rain drops with a 27-degree ground temperature everything freezes," he said.
Rasor said Thursday's event had been in the charts for awhile, but was difficult to predict because of the "freezing line."
"The trick was where was the line going to be. That line will be moving to the north through the evening, and most of it (precipitation) should be melted away by mid-morning," Rasor predicted, although he noted that with one-quarter of an inch on some surfaces and an east wind at approximately 15 mph, the chance of tree limbs freezing on utility lines was a possibility through Thursday night.
County Highway Engineer Brandon Simmons said county officials were prepared for the storm.
"We went out early this morning (Thursday) and started pre-salting. We've got five trucks out spreading salt as needed. We'll continue to spread until it quits this evening," Simmons said Thursday at mid-afternoon. Simmons added the county has plenty of salt supplies on hand since the county had reserves left over from last winter.
"We had a light winter last year, Our (salt) bin is completely full," he said.
Mt. Vernon Public Works Director Matt Fauss said the city had six pieces of equipment out, starting about 10 a.m. Thursday.
"We've been out since that first batch hit us today (Thursday). We hit bridges first and those areas that typically freeze faster than others, and then moved to the main roads," Fauss said, adding the city employees would be working until main roads are passable.
Fauss said this winter mix hasn't caused any significant problems for city crews.
"The roads were super slick at the beginning, but we put a mixture of salt and sand down. The sand gives you good traction at intersections. We can cover quite a bit of the city when we divide it up into five sections," he added, also noting park department employees were assisting in the detail by clearing off city parking lots and other off-road areas.
The city is not responsible for maintaining the new Good Samaritan Regional Health Center parking lot since it is on private property.
Keith Miley of Illinois Department of Transportation District 9, based in Carbondale, said the department had 125 trucks out by 7 a.m. on Thursday in 16 Southern Illinois counties.
"We began pretreating early in the morning in advance of the storm and now we're getting snow districtwide," Miley said late Thursday afternoon. "It looks like the forecast says we're not out of the woods until around midnight, and the temperatures are not expected to warm up so that more than likely will prolong our operation."