Highland News Leader

Ice melts away without causing a single outage, accident in Highland

Branches of a tree in eastern Madison County are covered with ice on Saturday morning, Jan. 14. However, there was not enough ice to cause the tree to lose any limbs.
Branches of a tree in eastern Madison County are covered with ice on Saturday morning, Jan. 14. However, there was not enough ice to cause the tree to lose any limbs. clibbra@bnd.com

What was being billed as a potential Friday the 13th “icepocalypse” turned out to cause very few problems in Highland.

Highland police handled only a single accident over the weekend.

“Since Friday, we have had only one accident, and it was a parking lot fender-bender, non-weather-related,” Highland Police Chief Terry Bell on Monday.

“We have absolutely nothing storm-related to report on the EMS side, which is great,” Highland EMS Chief Brian Wilson said.

There was a fatal accident in Clinton County, between Aviston and Trenton on U.S. Highway 50 on Saturday, however, it could not be confirmed if weather played a role.

National Weather Service issued an advisory Thursday morning for the impending ice storm. “This storm will still bring anywhere from one-quarter inch to three-quarters of an inch of ice accumulation to the area. Plan now for hazardous travel conditions and possible damage to trees and power lines,” the warning said.

The ice did come, but not as much as feared. And it didn’t stay.

The Highland area received  1/10 of an inch of ice on Friday and another  1/10 inch on Saturday, with some trace amounts on Sunday, according to News Leader weather watcher Jeff Menz.

However, it could have been worse.

“Some may say the National Weather Service blew the forecast, because we only received (near Highland) about a quarter-inch of ice accumulation over the entire three-day ice storm warning,” Menz said. “The moisture was here. Our gauge recorded 0.92 inches of rain from Friday through Sunday. The temperature was almost what was needed for an ‘icepocolypse,’” Menz said.

Temperatures rose from a low of 27 on Friday morning to a high of 36 late Saturday morning. Temperatures dropped again to freezing Sunday morning and rose to 37 Sunday afternoon.

Had temperatures run 5 degrees cooler throughout the event, Menz said, many people would not have had electricity “for a while.”

“Winter weather is notoriously difficult to forecast as thermal layers in the atmosphere play such a huge part in what form of precipitation can be expected,” he said.

“A valuable exercise in disaster preparedness”

Highland city officials met Thursday morning to finalize preparations in anticipation of the severe winter storm that was forecast to hit the region hard over the weekend.

As part of the planning, the Highland Police Department planned for extra dispatchers during the storm in order to handle the call volume, and reassigned investigators to assist with patrol during the peak daytime driving hours. First responders also coordinated with the Street and Alley Department to make sure a salt truck would be available around the clock to escort fire and/or EMS to any calls. Highland EMS staffed an additional ambulance, and the fire department is also staffed each station with a crew of four.

“We were prepared and had contingency plans in place. Fortunately, we didn’t need any of them,” Wilson said.

The city of Highland had seven trucks with salt spreaders and plenty of salt available for use.

“The crews were out most of the day on Friday, and a few hours on Saturday morning,” said Public Works Director Joe Gillespie. “We used under 100 tons of salt.”

Highland Light & Power Director Dan Cook said his department also had no weather-related issues. However, all his department’s personnel were on standby.

There was one power outage that was reported Friday morning that effected the north end of town, causing several intersections with traffic lights to go out, but power was quickly restored. City Manager Mark Latham said the outage was actually caused by a squirrel in the Northtown substation.

Southwestern Electric experienced only a handful of outages, said Bobby Williams, the Greenville-based electric cooperative’s chief operating officer.

As of 6 a.m. Saturday, only about 25 Southwestern members were without power. The co-op delivers electricity to 23,000 homes and businesses in 11 counties across southwestern Illinois.

Earlier in the week, Southwestern recruited contract crews from three states to address the high probability of extensive damage and widespread outages from the storm. The cooperative doubled its outside workforce, enlisting crews and equipment from southern Illinois, Indiana and Missouri. Southwestern also contacted materials suppliers to ensure additional poles and hardware were available.

“It’s been a valuable exercise in disaster preparedness. We’ve strengthened our working relationships with several contractors, and we’ll have that moving forward,” Williams said.

People just stayed home

The forecast caused schools to call off classes on Friday and extracurricular activities planned for over the weekend, such as the Highland Girls Basketball Tournament on Saturday. The tournament’s opening day of eight games was pushed back to Monday.

Also, many businesses and government offices closed.

Madison County Chairman Kurt Prenzler and Madison County Chief Judge David Hylla decided to close the county facilities Friday, including the courts, administration building, health department and various other departments.

The fact that many people just stayed home during the worst of the storm seems to have made a difference.

“(I) was pleased to see that people appeared to heed the warnings and traffic seemed lighter than normal,” said Wilson. “I only hope that the fact that this storm did not meet the predictions this time does not create complacency for the next time.”