After the biggest winter storm to hit the region in years brought anywhere from a few inches of snow to more than a foot on Friday and Saturday, metro-east residents could breathe easy on Sunday as the storm tapered off.
Though a light snow was still predicted to fall until 4 p.m. Sunday, the National Weather Service’s forecast called for less than a half inch of accumulation. Freezing rain was still possible for the evening and could create a glaze of ice in some locations.
Belleville and Steeleville had 8 inches of snow by Saturday morning, according to the National Weather Service St. Louis office. Parts of O’Fallon saw 9 inches of snow. In Missouri, Columbia got 14.5 inches.
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Many metro-east families were looking forward to the snow. Once streets were cleared, people got out to drive, go sledding or shovel driveways.
Freddie Novosel had friends and strangers, who know him only as the Snow Man, stop by his Collinsville home to find out what he would build out of snow this time.
Novosel said he’s sculpted Collinsville’s landmark Catsup Bottle, Winnie the Pooh and Gene Simmons of Kiss, which was featured on CNN at the time. This year, he spent Saturday afternoon building a baby shark, based on the hit children’s song and dance.
“If I can make somebody smile, it’s worth it,” Novosel said.
Despite a steady rain Saturday afternoon, families filled East End Park in Belleville to hit the sledding slopes and roll the wet, packable snow into giant balls.
Madelyn Peters, 3, of Belleville and her brother, Colton, 8, were sliding off a giant snowball that someone built before they arrived.
Madelyn called the snow “pretty.” And Colton added, “It’s bigger than life.”
They were in the park with their parents, Mickey and Desiree Peters.
Alex Burniski of Belleville went to the park with her 9-month-old daughter, Claire Pritchard, and her son, Jack Pritchard.
Jack summed up their day in the park as “good.”
“We had a lot of fun,” Burniski said. “It’s really good sledding snow. The rain is kind of what’s driving us home.”
Amanda Richardson was cheering on her kids slippin’ and slidin’ down a steep hill. She was with Xavier, 14, Dominick, 9, Xander, 8, and Maxton, 4.
On one trip, Maxton went down headfirst without a sled or tube.
“We’ve had a blast today,” Richardson said. “We’re not a fan of the rain but we have to take advantage of it while we can.”
The winter storm, which began about noon Friday in St. Louis and quickly moved east, dumped heavy snow on the region just before the evening commute. As a result, thousands of drivers were stranded on snow-clogged roadways for hours as traffic ground to a halt.
Many roadways, including interstate highways in Missouri, were closed, and some people abandoned their cars. Drivers reported taking three or more hours to reach their destinations.
Since the snow started falling Friday, Illinois State Police had been called to 246 incidents, including 103 car crashes, Master Sgt. Jeff Snyder said Saturday morning. Many cars had veered off the roads and into ditches in the metro-east, especially along Illinois 15 in Belleville and Green Mount Road between Shiloh and Belleville.
One of the wrecks resulted in a fatality. The crash happened around 5 p.m. Friday at U.S. 40 and Lake Road in Madison County, according to Snyder. Illinois State Police Captain Tim Tyler said Friday night that a car traveling eastbound lost control and struck a westbound driver. The eastbound driver wasn’t wearing a seat belt. He was identified Saturday as Allen Reinacher, 73, of Troy.
Snyder said the other overnight calls included traffic stops, abandoned vehicles and cars that were stuck or off the road.
The fact that the bulk of the snow fell overnight and into Saturday morning helped in that many stayed off the roads until they were cleared. In O’Fallon, Belleville, Collinsville and elsewhere, streets were just wet or slushy but passable after a plow had come through.
On Sunday, snowplows were still working to clear streets. The St. Clair County Emergency Management Agency warned drivers that black ice could continue to affect traffic and encouraged them to be cautious.
Schools closed early on Friday ahead of the storm in hopes of getting students home safe and buses off the roads. In Eureka, Missouri, the Rockwood school district dismissed students three hours early. Then, the superintendent got stuck on the snow-covered highway.
Rockwood Superintendent Eric Knost tweeted from his car. Around 3 a.m., he said in a tweet that he was finally in his driveway after leaving his office at 3:20 p.m.
The Missouri State Highway Patrol said more than 175 crashes had been reported between Friday and late Saturday morning.
In a Saturday morning news conference, Missouri Department of Transportation official Bob Becker said the intensity of the storm made their job difficult.
“It’s impossible for us to keep up,” he said.
It’s been almost six years since the metro-east and St. Louis saw 1 foot of snow. Patrick Walsh, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service St. Louis office, said 12.4 inches of snow was recorded at St. Louis Lambert International Airport on March 24, 2013.
On Friday night, commuters were backed up for hours in many places. Traffic was at a standstill on Green Mount heading south from Shiloh because many cars couldn’t make it up the hill approaching Shiloh Road/Lebanon Avenue. Cars stalled in many spots and reduced traffic to one lane or closed roads altogether. Cars were sliding into the concrete median in Alorton at the bottom of the hill on Illinois 15.
The last time a two-day storm like this one brought more than 9 inches of snow was Jan. 5-6, 2014, according to Walsh.
The mega storm sent many to stock up on groceries Thursday and Friday in anticipation of the storm.
Illinois Department of Transportation crews pretreated roads and bridges at risk of icing, according to a news release from Friday morning. IDOT stated that plowing operations were likely to continue through the weekend.
The biggest snowstorm of the cold weather season so far affected an area from eastern Kansas to Missouri, the central and southern parts of Illinois, Indiana and Ohio and northern Kentucky. A general 3-6 inches of snow is forecast with local amounts nearing 1 foot in parts of central Missouri and central and southern Illinois.
Central Missouri was experiencing power outages in about 12,000 homes and businesses. Few if any power outages were reported in the metro-east, according to Ameren Illinois.
Snow is expected to spread east to the upper Middle Atlantic coast at night. Farther south, snow, ice and rain will extend from southern Arkansas to southern Kentucky and the mountains and Piedmont areas of North Carolina with thunderstorms farther south to the Gulf Coast.
IDOT, Illinois State Police and local law enforcement agencies suggested people avoid traveling in the storm. For some, there was no choice.
By Friday night, 92 flights at St. Louis Lambert International Airport had been canceled, according to the airport’s blog. As of 5 a.m. Saturday, 74 flights were canceled because of the storm. It stated that more cancellations were likely.
Scott Air Force Base was operating under mission-essential only status from 2 p.m. Friday through Saturday.
Southwestern Illinois College canceled classes for Saturday, when the spring semester was scheduled to begin.
Warming centers will be available to those who need them through Saturday, according to the St. Clair County Emergency Management Agency. They aren’t open Sunday, but will be available again on Monday. They include:
▪ Belleville Public Library, S. Jackson and E. Washington streets in Belleville.
▪ West Branch Public Library, 3414 W. Main St. in Belleville.
▪ Cahokia Public Library, 140 Cahokia Park Drive in Cahokia.
▪ East St. Louis Public Library, 5300 State St. in East St. Louis.
▪ The Salvation Army, 616 N. 16th St. in East St. Louis.
▪ Fairview Heights Public Library, 10017 Bunkum Road in Fairview Heights.
▪ Lebanon Public Library, 314 W. St. Louis St. in Lebanon.
▪ O’Fallon Public Library, 120 Civic Plaza in O’Fallon.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.