By EDWARD HUSAR
Herald-Whig Staff Writer
A furious snowstorm that descended on the Tri-State area with a vengeance late Thursday morning quickly dumped six to seven inches of snow onto Quincy by mid-evening and led to numerous traffic crashes and stuck vehicles across the region.
But it's not over yet.
The National Weather Service in St. Louis said the winter storm warning would remain in effect until 6 a.m. Friday with total snow accumulations expected between nine and 13 inches -- along with a light glazing of ice.
The ice started appearing in late evening as the blizzard turned to sleet or, in some areas, a light mist.
The storm had been widely predicted for a couple of days by weather forecasters who believed the leading edge of the storm system would arrive shortly before noon Thursday. It did exactly that -- and made its presence known with a loud thunderclap heard throughout much of Quincy at 11:36 a.m.
The thunder coincided with a lighting strike on an apartment house in the 1100 block of Jersey. A resident of the complex, Herald-Whig sportswriter Josh Rizzo, said he was sleeping when the lightning hit the chimney of the house and woke him up.
"I didn't hear any sirens, so I went back to sleep," Rizzo said.
But before long, the Quincy Fire Department arrived at the scene to check if any flames had erupted as a result of the lightning. As it turned out, everything was OK -- except for some chimney bricks that fell from the roof.
The snowstorm gained in intensity immediately, reaching blizzard status by early afternoon.
By then, the Quincy School District had halted the school day three hours earlier than normal so students could be sent home before the storm got too bad.
The Palmyra (Mo.) School District wasn't so lucky. WGEM-TV reported that some Palmyra buses taking students home were forced to turn around because of the slippery conditions and took the students back to the school to be picked up by their parents.
Two Hannibal (Mo.) school buses slid off roads while taking students home.
Most schools in the Tri-State area already have canceled classes for Friday, including the Quincy and Hannibal school districts.
Snow plow crews from city, county and state departments were kept busy all day trying to keep local streets and highways in passable condition. At mid-afternoon Thursday, Adams County Sheriff Brent Fischer described the situation on county roads as "brutal."
Many cars were running off roads, and numerous accidents were reported.
Shortly before 3 p.m., the Illinois State Police said I-172 and I-72 were at a standstill in multiple places because of incidents involving vehicles having difficulty traversing through the snow.
Trooper Mike Kindhart, safety education officer at the ISP's District 20 headquarters in Pittsfield, said traffic in the area of U.S. 54 and Ill. 107 near Pittsfield was "completely closed down" for a time because a semi-tractor trailer jackknifed, blocking the road. Traffic was backed up a long distance in all directions.
He also said portions of Ill. 57 were "almost impassible" for a while because of drifting snow.
Kindhart said highways throughout the West-Central Illinois region were "completely snow packed and covered with numerous inches of snow. You cannot see lines from either side of the road. We have many cars in ditches."
Many cars had no traction on slippery streets and roads. One particular trouble spot was a hilly section of Ill. 96 at Riley's curve on the way to Payson.
"We've got cars stuck on the hill that cannot get all the way up, and cars are backed up behind it," Kindhart said. "Once one car gets stuck, we've got everybody stuck."
U.S. 61 in Northeast Missouri also was at a near-standstill for several hours because of stuck vehicles before the traffic lanes were finally cleared late Thursday afternoon.
Despite the numerous traffic mishaps that resulted from the storm, no serious injuries or major incidents were reported, according to John Simon, director of the Adams County Emergency Management Agency, who monitored the weather situation all day.
"Things have been going really well" under the circumstances, Simon said. He said local officials didn't see a need to set up an emergency operations center because the conditions and forecasts were nowhere near as worrisome as during the "Snowpocalypse" when the Quincy area was smothered in a record-setting 22 inches of snow Feb. 1, 2011.
This storm was far less threatening, Simon said.
"We haven't had any major issues," he said Thursday night. "We're not seeing the stranded motorists in this particular storm."
Simon also said drifting "hasn't been as much of an issue" as it might have been.
Nonetheless, he acknowledged that local roads continued to be snow packed and slippery, posing a worry for many motorists.
"It's going to be tomorrow (Friday) before road crews can get a really good clean path on things," he said.
To help speed up the street-cleaning effort, Mayor John Spring declared a snow emergency would go into effect at 5 p.m. Thursday and continue "until further notice." This meant cars and trucks had to be moved off snow routes so plowing could take place from curb to curb.
Simon said city crews were expected to continue plowing all night while county crews were expected to stop at some point during the night and resume plowing early Friday morning.
Simon said township officials, because of limited resources, oftentimes don't begin plowing in certain rural locations until the snow finally stops. That could mean some roads may not be plowed until Friday. "People who live out in those areas are accustomed to that," he said.
The Adams County Ambulance Service managed to carry out its emergency services without much difficulty despite the snowy conditions, according to EMS Chief Paul Davis.
"We've had a relatively calm day. Just the normal, run-of-the-mill emergencies," Davis said. "We haven't responded to any significant crashes. We responded to a couple, but nothing significant."
Davis said some of the rural ambulances have completed runs along some snow-packed roads, but they haven't had any difficulty getting to or from their destinations.
"We haven't had any problem getting around so far," he said. "It's just slow going because of the snow. But the roads, we've found, have been obviously snow packed, but they're passable as long as we practice due diligence."
The storm had a big impact on local businesses. The Quincy Mall shut down all stores at 3 p.m. Thursday with the exception of Sears, which wanted to remain open.
Mall Manager Kimm Minnick said the mall was seeing very little customer traffic anyway Thursday afternoon because of the blizzard conditions outside.
"It's very quiet," she said prior to the mall's closure.
The mall is expected to resume operations at 10 a.m. Friday, she said.
The Quincy Family YMCA shut its doors at 6 p.m., and many local businesses on both sides of the Mississippi River also shut down early.
However, some places remained open despite difficult conditions. For example, the 18-Wheeler restaurant along Mo. 6 -- just off U.S. 61 -- in Taylor, Mo., remained open even though all members of the second and third shifts called to say they couldn't make it to work because of the snow.
"So the first shift's been running it so far all day," said Robert Wittner, the restaurant's kitchen manager.
He said the restaurant would attempt to bring in some employees so the first shift could finally get some rest.
The storm also sent scores of people outdoors to go play in the snow. Among them was Tim Miller of Quincy and his fiancee, Emily Ulm. Once the snow started flying in a rage, they ventured outside to try geo-caching in the snow. This activity involves using an iPhone's GPS and mapping functions to search for out-of-the way caches of loot hidden by others who like to play the game.
But in this case, Miller said he and Ulm "didn't' find anything, probably because of the snow."
He acknowledged they weren't able to spend as much time searching for hidden treasure because on two occasions they stopped to help some other motorists who became stuck in snowdrifts along Quincy streets.