Cold weather causes major issues; schools opt for another snow day

News-DemocratJanuary 7, 2014 

Warmer temperatures gave highway workers a much-needed boost Tuesday, allowing ice melting chemicals a chance to do their work.

The temperature went from 14 below zero at the St. Louis Downtown Airport in Cahokia early Tuesday to a balmy 21 in the afternoon, according to the National Weather Service.

Although there is a chance for up to an inch of snow Wednesday night, a warming trend is on the way as road crews continue to clear metro-east streets.

According to the Illinois Department of Transportation, plow crews were out in force Tuesday in hope that the roads will be in better condition by Wednesday morning. A total of 1,755 IDOT plows were pushing snow and spreading ice melting chemicals Tuesday.

Chemicals haven't cleared the roads this week because the temperatures were too cold for them to work. According to IDOT, calcium chloride begins to work at about 10 degrees above zero, and road salt activates at about 20.

Icy conditions and water main breaks made travel dangerous Tuesday, and the hazardous conditions forced several metro-east school districts to call off again Wednesday.

School districts that canceled classes Wednesday include O'Fallon School District 203, O'Fallon School District 90, Shiloh District 85, Freeburg Community High School District 77, Freeburg School District 70, Belle Valley School District 119, Cahokia School District 187, Edwardsville School District 7, Signal Hill School District 181 and Collinsville Community Unit School District 10.

Some private schools will be open Wednesday, including St. Teresa Catholic School in Belleville.

Wednesday's high will be 31 in the metro-east, according to Weather Central. By Friday, the high is expected to be 41 with a chance of rain.

Tuesday's low at Lambert-St. Louis International Airport was minus 4, short of the St. Louis record of minus 14 set in 1912.

The temperatures made situations worse as a number of water mains broke throughout the region.

A water main break Tuesday morning in Swansea forced cars off Illinois 159 and crews had to brave dangerously cold weather to fix the problem.

The pipe broke near the older of the village's two fire stations in the 1400 block of the road, according to Police Chief Mike Arnold.

"Because all the drains are clogged with ice and snow, the water had nowhere to go," Arnold said. "So there was a lot of water freezing in the street."

The water was 6 to 8 inches deep before the sewer drains could be opened to let what hadn't frozen flow away. But an icy mess was left behind.

Arnold said traffic was diverted off the road while work was underway. After the water was drained, the Illinois Department of Transportation came through with plows and spread ice melt.

Arnold said Illinois 161 remains treacherous in Swansea, especially in hilly areas where ice is bonded with the roadway to prevent drivers from getting traction.

Shortly after the first break was under control, a second break happened just to the north on Illinois 159 near Bronze Pointe.

Illinois American Water, which covers most the metro-east, serving 250,000 people with 1,100 miles of water lines, was dealing with several main breaks Tuesday, according to spokeswoman Karen Cotton.

"Crews have been at work around the clock to try to keep up with the main breaks," Cotton said. "If main breaks at 2 a.m. we send a crew out. We have a lot of longtime veteran employees who take a great deal of pride in their job. It doesn't matter what time of day it is, if they can fix it, they're going to fix it."

Another crew was working a major water main break Tuesday at Madison Avenue and 25th Street in Granite City.

While the breaks are difficult to fix because of snow cover and frozen ground, Cotton said that workers were, fortunately, able to keep the number of customers inconvenienced by a loss of water service to a minimum.

Water mains break, in many cases, because of expansion and contraction caused by extreme temperatures, Cotton said. But the metro-east is especially vulnerable because it has many older communities, some of which have old pipes.

"Our systems are more than 100 years old in some areas," Cotton said. "And it's not uncommon at all to find pipes that are 50, 60 or 70 years old."

Collinsville leaders have announced that there will be lane restrictions Wednesday on Main Street for snow removal.

Work is to begin at 7 a.m. and people must move their cars from Main Street parking places before removal can begin. It is expected to take at least two hours per block and could take two days to clean the entire length of the street.

In O'Fallon, city leaders are asking for volunteers to help clear snow from the driveways and walks of senior citizens.

If you want to volunteer, send an email to jbordoni@ofallon.org that includes your name, phone number and address.

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

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