Snow plow crews, homeless shelters and pet advocates are gearing up for extreme winter weather this weekend, with 6 to 10 inches of snow expected followed by dangerously cold temperatures.
Illinois Department of Transportation district operating engineer Joe Monroe said he'll have a crew of more than 200 people prepping streets during the day Saturday, with crews manning plows Saturday evening and Sunday to try to keep roads passable.
"We're going to make every attempt with our available resources" to keep roads passable, Monroe said. "We've called in additional resources from Springfield. We have ample supplies on hand and our people are prepared. We'll go as long as it takes."
Monroe said plow crews will apply salt and calcium chloride to roads prior to the arrival of the snow Saturday. After that, they'll work in shifts around the clock to try to clean roads before temperatures plunge Sunday night, so the crews will be ready for the Monday morning rush hour.
The number of warming shelters available to local residents continues to grow as homeless advocates try to meet the need for a safe place for people to stay.
In East St. Louis, city leaders worked with religious leaders to open churches to people who otherwise wouldn't have shelter from the cold.
St. Luke's church at 414 N. 14th St., Galilee Central Church at 1620 Dr. Zachary Lee Place, the Continuum of Life Care Center at 1274 N. 37th St., New Life Community Church at 1919 State St., and Gethsemane Church at 1435 Baugh Ave. are open from 7 p.m. until 7 a.m. as warming shelters.
Members of a local pet rescue group are working overtime lately to try to save as many animals as possible from the storm.
Gateway Pet Guardians volunteers, who often provide dog houses and food for stray animals or those whose owners can't afford to care for them, spent Friday searching in East St. Louis for animals that might not survive the extreme weather.
Dogs and cats often look for shelter in abandoned buildings, according to one of the organization's founding members, Julia Mittelstadt.
"These dogs take to the abandoned houses for shelter in the winter," Mittelstadt said. "We checked on one of our regulars this morning and found him shivering in the corner of an abandoned house. We need straw, blankets and shelter for these animals to get them through this weather without freezing to death."
Gateway Pet Guardians board member Ashley Riley said the organization has room for nine pets in its permanent shelter and for as many as 20 animals including foster families scattered throughout the area. She said the group needs more foster families and donations to pay for medical care needed for the animals it takes in.
"The average vet bill for these animals is $400," Riley said. "But I would say that nine of 10 of the animals we take in are heartworm positive and the bills can often be $800-$1,000. The most we charge for an adoption is $150, so we're obviously losing money on every dog we place."
To assist Gateway Pet Guardians, visit www.gatewaypets.com and make a donation of money, or call 314-664-7398 to arrange a drop off of a dog house or straw.
Will schools cancel class?
The unpredictable weather has school officials watching the forecast as they try to decide whether to open schools Monday. Many districts have been on winter break since before Christmas, but kids could see their holiday extended.
Belleville School District 118 Superintendent Matt Klosterman said school leaders will monitor the weather reports and road conditions Sunday. But, despite the gloomy forecast of snow followed by bitter cold, he said school won't be canceled until the expected conditions materialize.
"Probably," Klosterman said when asked whether he thought school would be called off for Monday. "But not before Sunday."
Threat to crops
The weather is also threatening local agricultural businesses. At Eckert's Orchards, workers are worried about strawberry and blackberry plants, and peach trees.
Eckert's President Chris Eckert said strawberry plants can be damaged when the temperature hits 5 degrees. Blackberry plants are damaged at 5 below zero and peach trees have problems when the temperature reaches 10 below.
"I expect a significant number of our peach buds to freeze; the good thing however, is that peaches over produce," Eckert said. "We don't need all of the flower buds to have a full crop of peaches."
Loss estimates will be made quickly following the freeze event for this particular crop.
Friday, Eckert's employees covered the strawberry and blackberry plants with white blankets that can keep them slightly warmer. Eckert said he is also counting on a blanket of snow to help protect the plants from the extremely cold temperatures expected to follow the snowfall Saturday night and Sunday.
Records could break
According to Weather Central, the high temperature Saturday will reach 38. Snow will start to fall Saturday night and the mercury will drop to 16 by midnight.
Sunday, the temperature will drop throughout the day, reaching 13 by 5 p.m. The National Weather Service forecast calls for at least 6 inches of snow but says some parts of the metro-east could get 10 inches.
After the snow leaves the area, the temperature will plunge to a low of 6 below Sunday night.
Monday, the high is expected to be zero, which would tie the all-time record for lowest high temperature, set Jan. 6, 1912. The low will drop back to 6 below Monday night. But that would fall short of the record low for that date, 11 below, also set in 1912.
The lowest January temperature recorded in the St. Louis area came Jan. 5, 1894, when the mercury fell to 22 below.
More snow could be in the long range forecast with a 50 percent chance on Wednesday.
Contact reporter Scott Wuerz at email@example.com or call 239-2626.