By DOUG WILSON
Herald-Whig Senior Writer
Highway crews, school districts and Tri-state residents are watching and preparing for a winter storm that could hit the region with freezing rain and up to six inches of snow on Thursday.
The National Weather Service sounded the alert early Tuesday that a storm then dumping snow in the mountains of California would slowly march across the nation this week.
"It's going to be a statewide storm. They're preparing for the ice down south and the snow up north," said Marisa Brown Ellison, customer relations manager for the Missouri Department of Transportation's office in Hannibal, Mo.
National weather models predict that all of Western Illinois and Northeast Missouri will see snowfall by noon Thursday. Current maps call for freezing rain in the Missouri River valley, but meteorologists warn that weather models can change and forecasts will almost certainly be adjusted in the next 24 hours.
The National Weather Service has issued an "urgent weather message" for the Quincy-Hannibal area warning of sleet, snow and wind gusts of up to 30 mph. The forecast reads in part: "The heaviest snow accumulations are expected to be across Northeast Missouri and West-Central Illinois, with the largest ice accumulations along and south of Interstate 70."
Other parts of the Midwest have worse forecasts. Lincoln, Neb., is bracing for 12 inches of snow from late Wednesday through Thursday afternoon. Kansas City is expected to see eight inches of snow and might be in the crosshairs for freezing rain. Kansas road crews say I-70 might be closed in central parts of the state where snowfall could exceed one foot. Even Arizona could see snows that could delay the Match Play Championship golf tournament.
In Missouri and Illinois, ice could be up to two-tenths of an inch thick in some areas. Emergency officials say that could cause tree branches to break and power lines to go down, especially with the high wind speeds.
Quincy Public Schools interim Superintendent Joel Murphy said decisions about school closure will be made once administrators have reports about the storm's course and severity. Although most closure decisions are made in the early morning hours, Murphy said it could be called early if the storm lives up to expectations.
"If it's six inches of snow, it depends on when it falls," Murphy said. "We'll do what's best for the safety of the kids."
Seldon Totsch, the road commissioner in Adams County's McKee Township, hopes the area gets snow rather than freezing rain.
"If we get snow, I can plow the roads by myself in 14 or 15 hours. If it's freezing rain, I'll need to put down small rock chips for ice control. That's going to take me longer than plowing snow," Totsch said.
He's glad the storm is not expected to be anything like the blizzard that dumped more than 20 inches of snow in Adams County two years ago this month. Totsch said it took 48 hours, and help from wrecker crews that pulled him out of drifts or ditches, to clear township roads during that storm.
Marty Stegeman of Quincy's Central Services Department said crews were putting snow plows on dump trucks and putting together work schedules.
"We're adding a few backup trucks in case it becomes more serious," Stegeman said.
"No one should be caught off guard with this storm," Ellison said. "We've already seen some people canceling things in preparation for that."