By THE HERALD-WHIG STAFF
Quincy police officers and tow truck crews didn’t have time to eat during the lunch hour Thursday.
Snow started falling at about 11 a.m. , and 911 dispatchers were busy within an hour.
A tractor-trailer rig became stuck on slick pavement at Third and Maine after stopping at the traffic signal at the top of the hill east of Quincy Memorial Bridge. A rash of minor vehicle crashes also kept local police busy. Tow truck crews were so busy that some people were being told to expect a delay before they could be towed from ditches or curbs.
The Missouri Department of Transportation reported a semi jackknifed in front of O'Reilly's Auto Parts on U.S. 61 southbound in Hannibal, Mo. Traffic is backed up on McMasters through town.
West-Central Illinois and Northeast Missouri were hit by a combination of snow, high wind and sleet. The storm is hundreds of miles across, with freezing rain south of Interstate 70. National Weather Service officials were warning the storm has the potential to be the worst since the Groundhog Day blizzard of 2011, a two-day nightmare that began on Feb. 1 and dumped almost 2 feet of snow on most of the region.
In the Quincy area visibility was limited to less than a city block in some areas. One driver described traffic on Broadway as heavy, but slow.
“We’re not going to see that type of storm, but it’s certainly the most impactful in the last two winters,” said Jayson Gosselin, a weather service meteorologist who works in suburban St. Louis.
Marty Stegeman, interim director of Central Services, said 12 trucks are plowing city trucks right now and encourages residents to stay off the roads if possible.
“We’re doing our best,” he said. “It’s coming down really heavy.”
Quincy Mayor John Spring said he expects to make a decision this afternoon on whether to declare a snow emergency, which would ban on-street parking on select streets
“We’re far from the amount of snow on the ground to declare a snow emergency,” he said. ‘Even if we don’t, I would encourage people to move their vehicles. That will help our efforts to clear the streets curb-to-curb.”
Parts of northern Missouri and central Illinois are expected to get about 12 inches of snow, with areas in and around Quincy looking for 4 to 6 inches, with gusting wind and icy conditions.
Hundreds of snowplows and salt spreaders across the Midwest were on highways and streets as the storm hit.
The storm began hammering portions of Kansas, Oklahoma, Nebraska, Arkansas and Missouri on Wednesday.
Rick Walker is the operations field engineer for District 6 of the Illinois Department of Transportation, which covers West-Central Illinois. He says IDOT crews have prepared for the worst.
“Everyone is ready and we have plenty of salt at all of our facilities — that will not be an issue,” Walker said.
Walker said crews will work around the clock, if needed. He expects the worst part of the storm to arrive late this afternoon “right around rush hour.”
Walker said wind gusts are expected to be as high as 30 mph in many areas, which will cause snow to drift. Icy roads might also be a concern.
If weather reports prove accurate, Walker said, the worst of the storm should be over by late tonight.
“Then the cleanup starts,” he said.
Local shoppers made their own preparations.
Brad Niemann said the “rush” started as much as a day before the snow started falling at about 11 a.m. today.
“We had people coming in as early as Wednesday morning, stocking up in case there was a big storm,” said Niemann, the store manager for the County Market at 48th and Broadway in Quincy. “Every time the media starts talking about significant snow, people start coming in to get supplies in case they might get snowed in for a couple of days, or if the kids may be off of school for a few days.”
Niemann said it is important for outlets such as supermarkets to watch weather patterns in advance to have ample — and extra — supplies on hand in cases like this.
“There is always a run on the staples like milk, bread, eggs, lunchmeats and other sandwich items,” Niemann said. “Those 24-packs of water also go fast.”
Even the best-laid plans, however, do not always work.
“During that big storm of two years ago, everyone ran out of milk — nobody had any milk ... it was crazy,” he said.
Trooper Dan Hill of the Illinois State Police District 14 in Macomb warned against any unnecessary travel.
“No one thinks that (he or she) will become stranded, but ... remember, weather conditions can change rapidly and create hazardous driving conditions,” Hill said. “It is important to maintain your vehicle properly and have an emergency car-care kit available.”
Hill said to make sure vehicles have a full tank of gas before traveling and to make certain cellphones are fully charged and to have a car charger handy.
“It is also recommended to have some food and water in your vehicle, as well as matches or a lighter, a candle and a flashlight,” Hill said. “If for any reason you must abandon your vehicle, place your name, current address and a telephone or cell number on a piece of paper and leave in the vehicle on the front seat.”
Gosselin said sleet and freezing rain could make driving especially troublesome in certain areas.
“Sleet is no fun to drive on, especially if you get a couple of inches, which could happen,” he said.
“It doesn’t melt, and it’s very heavy to move. It’s difficult to shovel, you can’t really plow it and the chemicals don’t work as well.”
Trooper Mike Kindhart of District 20 in Pittsfield may have summed up the pending weather-related problems best.
“Stay warm, stay home and don’t travel if it’s even questionable,” he said. “One driving fatality is one too many.”
The American Red Cross suggests the following precautions with forecasts such as those currently gripping West-Central Illinois and Northeast Missouri. Everyone should have:
º At least a three-day supply of water (a gallon per person per day) and nonperishable food.
º A flashlight, battery-powered radio and extra batteries.
º A well-stocked first-aid kit.
º A seven-day supply of medications and medical items, plus supplies for babies and pets.
Additional information on what supplies to have and what to do before, during and after a winter storm is available at redcross.org/wintersafety.
Editor's Note: This story has been updated.