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Big winter blast has arrived in Saline County

  • A lonely snowplow does its work on Illinois 34 south, near Illinois 145.

    A lonely snowplow does its work on Illinois 34 south, near Illinois 145.
    Travis DeNeal/Harrisburg Register

  • The snow is falling in Saline County.

    The snow is falling in Saline County.
    Travis DeNeal/Harrisburg Register

  • Saline County Highway Department maintenance worker Greg Cowger lubricates a tailgate spreader in preparation for the snow expected to begin late Thursday evening.  Most of the county's snow plow fleet has been ready for action for more than a month.

    Saline County Highway Department maintenance worker Greg Cowger lubricates a tailgate spreader in preparation for the snow expected to begin late Thursday evening. Most of the county's snow plow fleet has been ready for action for more than a month.
    Jeff Jones photo

  • Senior maintenance worker Kenny Murphy prepares to change the oil in the foreman's pickup truck Thursday morning.

    Senior maintenance worker Kenny Murphy prepares to change the oil in the foreman's pickup truck Thursday morning.
    Jeff Jones photo

 
By Travis DeNeal tdeneal@dailyregister.com
updated: 1/12/2018 1:22 PM

SALINE COUNTY -- The scene Thursday afternoon looked unlike a region expecting severe winter weather.

Heavy cloud left over from nearly daylong rains was breaking up. Blue sky was visible across much of the southern portion of the sky. As the sun brightened the afternoon sky, sycamore trees living along ditches in low-lying areas gleamed like giant bleached bones. It was 61 degrees.

Despite the mild temperatures, Saline County began bracing for its first winter storm of the year, predicted to begin about midnight.

The county sent its severe weather alert regarding the storm at 2:14 p.m. Thursday. The alert indicated a likelihood greater than 50 percent that an expected 1-3 inches of snow would accumulate on top of a quarter inch of ice.

While this storm is not enormous in scope or size, the polar air it's dragging behind may spawn more winter weather for the next week, according to Tracy Felty. Felty, of Carrier Mills, works as a meteorologist for WEVV-TV44 in Evansville, Ind.

"This is not going to go away quickly. There are a couple more rounds predicted. Another couple of inches of snow may fall Sunday night into Monday, and once we get all of this on the ground, we're going to have temperatures like we had last week," Felty said.

He advised common-sense precautions for those traveling.

"If you have to travel, be sure you have a full tank of gas, a charged cell phone, a blanket in the car and someone who knows where you're going and when you should arrive," he said. "Allow for longer travel times, and leave longer distances between you and the car in front of you. If you don't have to drive, stay home."

Regardless of whether Saline County gets ice or snow, the highway department is ready, County Engineer Jeff Jones said. Thursday was a day of minor preparation, because the county has been ready for winter weather for a while, he said.

"We've had the trucks and plows ready for some time now, so only minor items remain," Jones said Thursday morning. "It's too early to load salt on the trucks. We do that just before leaving the yard to plow."

In neighboring Williamson County, Highway Director Greg Smothers said 13 trucks and three road graders were prepared to hit the wintry mix with hundreds of tons of cinders and rock salt.

"We actually do a blend," he said. "We use more cinders than salt because the salt is a lot more expensive ($55 a ton as opposed to $22 for cinders). We talked about pre-treating the roads, but decided against it because the rain would just wash it off."

Other communities throughout the region also are ready.

According to Benton Street Commissioner Don Wyant, his team is prepared for whatever Mother Nature throws out.

"We've a three-quarter ton truck with a snow plow and salt spreader loaded and ready," he said.

The city also has three other trucks equipped with plows and spreaders ready to go.

"We're set up and can be rolling within the hour," Wyant said.

John D. Homan and Holly Kee contributed to this report.