Metro-East News

Metro-east braces itself ahead of ice storm expected to hit area on Friday

Updated ice warning from emergency management agency

Friday the 13th, a full moon and a major ice storm heading this way. What could go wrong? The St. Clair County Emergency Management Agency knows and is sounding the warning so local folks get prepared ahead of the storm.
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Friday the 13th, a full moon and a major ice storm heading this way. What could go wrong? The St. Clair County Emergency Management Agency knows and is sounding the warning so local folks get prepared ahead of the storm.

The loaf of whole wheat bread Brendan Phillips had in hands Thursday night wouldn’t have been his first choice.

“I just settled,” the chemist from O’Fallon said as he stood in bread aisle at Schnuck’s, 2665 N. Illinois St. in Swansea.

The bread options just before 7 p.m. Thursday were extremely limited. After Phillips snagged his loaf, it left just a few options for those who followed him.

“I knew this was going to happen,” he said.

Phillips was one of dozens of people making their way through the grocery store’s aisles. Everyone in the store was bracing for an ice storm that was expected to reach the region on Friday. The National Weather Service on Thursday afternoon issued an ice storm warning for the region. It will go into effect at 9 a.m. Friday and is expected to last until noon Sunday.

“Freezing rain will overspread the area Friday afternoon and evening,” the advisory read. “Significant ice accumulation is expected from Friday afternoon through Sunday afternoon. Accumulations ... one-quarter to one-half inch of ice.”

The advisory continued: “The wintry precipitation will likely result in hazardous travel conditions...especially on bridges, overpasses and untreated roads. Parking lots and sidewalks will become slippery as well. Damage to trees and power lines is also possible.”

Gary Schmocker, a meteorologist with the NWS, said the Belleville area could see up to a third of an inch of ice accumulation throughout the ice storm. Schmocker said the freezing rain is expected to arrive in the metro-east in the afternoon Friday. He said the worst times for travel would be Friday night into Saturday morning.

“It will come in waves,” Schmocker said. “It will come down lightly, but it doesn’t take much freezing rain to cause problems.”

The declaration of an ice storm warning by the NWS set off a series of moves by school districts throughout the metro-east. School districts began announcing closings around the dinner hour Thursday. By Thursday evening, it was tough to find a district that planned to have classes on Friday, thus giving the children a four-day weekend combined with Monday’s Martin Luther King Jr. holiday.

Belleville District 118 Superintendent Matt Klosterman said the decision to cancel was made based on when experts think the winter storm will hit the metro-east.

“We have decisions to make about students and staff getting to school safely, but we also have to make decisions about them getting home safely,” Klosterman said. “... We just saw a few weeks ago what a little bit of ice can do. It pretty much shut everything down.”

Highway officials in Illinois and Missouri asked drivers to stay off the roads during the storm. The Illinois Department of Transportation let motorists know that travel could be affected by sleet and ice through Sunday. IDOT said crews have been pre-treating bridges, overpasses and ramps – the areas most susceptible to icing – in advance of the expected freezing rain and sleet. More than 3,700 employees and 1,700 trucks will be available statewide to battle the winter storm this weekend, applying salt where needed.

The Missouri Department of Transportation was encouraging employers and schools to allow workers and students to stay home on Friday.

In the metro-east, some workers will be able to stay out of the storm. Scott Air Force Base is requiring only mission-essential personnel report for work on Friday, a move that will remain in effect until further notice.

“All personnel identified by their commanders as mission-essential are to report for duty,” the base wrote on its Facebook page. “Only those children of designated mission-essential personnel are allowed to be dropped off at the CDCs and Youth Center. The Commissary, Exchange and Express will open at normal times for a short period for those needing items. They will announce their closure later. All other base activities are canceled. All medical appointments will be rescheduled.”

Madison County officials on Thursday afternoon announced that county offices will be closed on Friday. Madison County Board Chairman Kurt Prenzler and Chief Judge David Hylla decided to close the county facilities, which includes the courts, administration building, health department and various other departments.

“The National Weather Service is predicting an ice storm to strike (Friday) and continue throughout the day and we want to make sure our employees and the public stays safe,” Prenzler said in a news release.

In St. Clair County, officials announced that all criminal and court proceedings will be canceled on Friday, but county offices will remain open.

From the looks of those milling around Schnucks on Thursday, many expected to stay in on Friday.

How bad did Phillips expect it go get?

“Hopefully, it’s just bad enough that I don’t have to go to work (on Friday),” he said with a laugh.

Don O’Brien: 618-239-2626, @DOBrienBND Additional information contributed by BND reporter Lexi Cortes.