'People need to slow down': It's rough going out on the roadways

News-DemocratJanuary 6, 2014 

Roads and weather conditions remain extremely treacherous Monday morning after a historic winter storm buried the metro-east in a foot or more of snow.

Illinois State Police spokesman Calvin Dye said authorities are asking people to stay off the roads unless it's absolutely necessary.

"People shouldn't even attempt to travel unless it's an emergency," Dye said. "When it's this cold and conditions are as bad as they are with the roads, it's risking your life to go out."

Bitterly cold temperatures have made snow removal difficult for plow crews, the Illinois Department of Transportation reports.

IDOT District engineer Joe Monroe called interstate highways "passable" but warned that they were still snow and ice packed.

"I can't stress enough that people need to slow down," Monroe said. "When we're peeling off the snow there is a layer of ice left behind because of compression. At minus 6 degrees there isn't a chemical in our arsenal that will melt that ice."

After the sun has a chance to warm road surfaces a little bit during the daytime hours, Monroe said, workers hope to be able to remove some of the ice.

The snow cleanup was also slowed by a change in the weather pattern overnight. Monroe said crews dealt with drifting was initially caused by northerly winds. But in the middle of the night the wind shifted to come out of the west. That caused all new drifting problems that had to be taken care of. On and off ramps on interstates are especially troublesome because their banked curves catch the snow.

Three IDOT plows were damaged so far during the snow clearing process when they were hit by motorists either following too closely or trying to pass. Monroe said drivers caught behind plows should feel like "they won the lottery" and stay in place behind the plows because that the place where roads are going to be in the best shape.

Missouri Department of Transportation leaders reported that it was so cold that road salt became frozen in the back of their plow trucks and couldn't be spread on the roads.

Police said if people can avoid the roads during the morning they should do so -- to give plow crews and chemicals a chance to do their work. But if they must travel they need to make sure they're prepared -- with blankets, water and food -- in case they get stranded for an extended period of time.

According to the American Automobile Association's Missouri chapter, which services the St. Louis area including the metro-east, it expects to deal with 600-1,000 motorist assist calls Monday.

Dye said local state police dealt with 290 calls Sunday. About 230 of them were related to people who were stuck or stranded by a disabled vehicle and 20 of them were related to crashes.

"It's the most I've seen by far in my 10 1/2 years here," Dye said. "It's still very dangerous, especially because of black ice. My superiors are basically begging the public - if you don't have to travel, don't."

Contact reporter Scott Wuerz at swuerz@bnd.com or call 239-2626.

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