The start of a wild weather weekend in the metro-east came Friday afternoon with a light drizzle that turned roads into ice rinks and forced emergency responders to have all hands on deck.
The good news for the metro-east is that the icy roads will be a thing of the past by early Saturday morning. But Mother Nature is planning a counter punch that will make Sunday anything but a fun day.
Melissa Byrd, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in St. Louis, said temperatures were expected to rise above the freezing mark early Saturday morning. Byrd said the freezing drizzle will turn to drizzle and then over to sleet and light snow before it’s finished on Saturday. That will be followed by some of the coldest temperatures of the season. Byrd said the forecast high for the metro-east is 13 degrees on Sunday with wind chills between zero and 10 degrees below zero.
At least most people will be able to hide from the cold if they so choose Sunday. There was no hiding from a treacherous commute Friday that saw the freezing rain hit the metro-east around 3 p.m.
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Illinois State Police troopers with Collinsville-based District 11 were busy throughout the afternoon and evening. Between 3 p.m. and 8:30 p.m., troopers responded to more than 80 crashes and had many more pending. Troopers were called in early to help with the extra caseload.
“We’re slammed with crashes,” District 11 Public Information Officer Calvin Dye Jr. said early in the afternoon.
As a result, the Illinois State Police encouraged people to stay off the roads. The message was echoed by police departments and emergency management officials throughout the area as all were dealing with roads that looked more like vehicle-filled ice rinks thanks to the weather.
“Crashes are being prioritized in order of seriousness,” ISP District 11 posted on its Facebook page, “so if you are one of the unfortunate ‘properly damage only’ crashes, please be patient. Your wait time is allowing someone with an injury to be helped first.”
At one point, area police departments were asking for fire departments to handle crashes, rather than patrol officers. There were reports that St. Clair Square Mall shoppers were being advised not to leave, due to road conditions, during the evening rush.
There were no quick ways home as many of the area’s major roads were littered with cars in ditches and reports of semis that had jackknifed on the road.
Numerous reports indicated that “black ice” seems to be the problem on most roads.
Here’s a look at how the Friday afternoon drive treated drivers throughout the metro-east:
4 p.m. - Scanner traffic indicated that a school bus had been rear-ended near the intersection of South 74th and Westchester Drive in Belleville. Scanner traffic indicated that children were on the bus, but there were no injuries.
4:20 p.m. - The eastbound lanes of Illinois 15 were blocked by an accident at South 74th , according to Belleville Fire Department.
5 p.m. - A multivehicle crash was reported near Lebanon on U.S. 50. Multiple ambulances were requested. Motorists waited for that crash to clear for more than 3.5 hours. The extent of injuries or the number of people hurt in that crash was not known, as no information about the crash was available.
6 p.m. - Westbound Illinois 15 at Eckert Road in Belleville was closed.
6:25 p.m. - Scanner traffic out of Madison County indicated that Troy-O’Fallon Road near Troy was totally shut down after a snowplow slid into an embankment. The road reopened around 8:25 p.m. The Troy Police Department said on its Facebook page that multiple vehicles had left the road, and the road needed to be treated before it was reopened.
7 p.m - Swansea police reported via scanner that eastbound traffic on Frank Scott Parkway West near Sullivan was at a complete standstill.
7:12 p.m. - Report in to News-Democrat newsroom, “Illinois 161 from Belleville to New Baden is littered with cars that have driven off the road.”
7:40 p.m. - Scanner report of a semi jackknifed on an on-ramp to northbound Interstate 255 at Interstate 64. Officer: “(Interstate) 64 is a skating rink.”
7:50 p.m. - St. Clair County EMA reports via Facebook that emergency responders in the county have responded to 700 calls for assistance since 4 p.m. “Please stay off the road if possible,” officials asked.
8:20 p.m. - Traveler on Frank Scott Parkway East says the road is at a standstill and is a “sheet of ice.” Traveler said Illinois 159 was in good shape.