CARBONDALE — With a winter storm warning in effect across much of Southern Illinois into Saturday, officials are reminding people to check on vulnerable neighbors, stay off the roads as much as possible, take caution to protect pets that stay outside, and where possible, clear sidewalks for postal workers.
“We hope that everyone checks on their loved ones that are older or frail, and that includes people with disabilities as well,” said John Smith, executive director of the Egyptian Area Agency on Aging.
Senior citizens’ centers, which are located in every county, offer important nutrition and emergency financial resources for older adults and their caregivers, Smith said. For instance, a center may be able to assist if financial challenges have resulted in a senior citizen’s electricity being shut off.
The National Weather Service forecast the Carbondale-Marion area would see about 5 inches of heavy, wet snow, accumulating Friday and into Saturday morning — the kind that is difficult to shovel and presents hazardous driving conditions. Weather forecasters were calling for up to 7 inches in Mount Vernon and surrounding areas. Parts of central Illinois and the greater St. Louis area could see double-digit snowfall.
The storm, stretching from the nation's capital to Colorado, could bring the highest snowfall totals in several years to sections of Missouri and Illinois, forecasters said Friday. St. Louis Lambert International Airport spokesman Jeff Lea said airlines have canceled dozens of flights through Saturday morning.
To prepare for the anticipated first major weather event of the winter season, the Illinois Department of Transportation pretreated roads and bridges susceptible to icing. Plowing operations were expected to begin Friday evening and continue through the weekend, the agency said in a news release. The agency encouraged people to stay off the roads if possible.
The heavier the traffic, the more challenging it is for snow plows to clear roads, IDOT said. For people who must travel, they should be prepared to slow down when encountering a snow plow. Highway officials also reminded drivers to take extra caution when approaching intersections, ramps, bridges and shady areas prone to black ice. And they suggested motorists make sure gas tanks are full, and travel with a cell phone, warm clothes, blankets, food, water and a first-aid kit in case they are stranded or in an accident.
If a crash occurs in extreme weather, Illinois State Police said motorists should exchange insurance and driver information and clear the roadway, unless medical attention is required. Motorists can file crash reports at their nearest Illinois State Police district office within 10 days.
Pet owners should also take extra precautions to check on their animals in snowy or icy conditions and extremely cold weather, said Sarah Abelseth, senior animal and client care associate at the Humane Society of Southern Illinois. Animals have varying tolerance levels for cold weather events.
“Our thought process is: If you’re cold, the animal is going to be cold,” Abelseth said.
If outdoor pets cannot be brought indoors, owners should make sure they have shelter from wind, snow and rain. There are a variety of inexpensive options to help animals stay warm outside, such as placing hay or old blankets in a dog house or kennel, or heated kennels can be purchased at pet supply stores. Owners should also make sure animals' drinking water doesn't freeze, as dehydration is not only a hot-weather concern.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Postal Service is asking customers to help its letter carriers deliver mail safely by clearing snow and ice from sidewalks, stairs and mailboxes where possible, as these conditions make delivery "dangerous and slow,” said Gateway District Manager Charles A Sciurba, in a statement.
Customers receiving door delivery should make sure their sidewalks, steps and porches are clear. Customers receiving curbside delivery should remove snow piles left by snow plows to keep access to their mailboxes clear for letter carriers. Municipalities are also reminding people who have vehicles parked along snow routes to move them as soon as possible.
Road condition information can be obtained by contacting the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) at 1-800-452-IDOT (4368) or on the internet at wrc.gettingaroundillinois.com.
— The Associated Press contributed to this report.