BLOOMINGTON -- A blizzard for the record books slammed Central Illinois on Tuesday as part of a wider storm system across 20 states, virtually paralyzing the community by nightfall and leaving many wondering if they will be able to hit the road for work Wednesday.
Snowplows kept up the battle against the blowing snow into the night, but officials conceded it was a losing proposition. The city of Bloomington closed Fort Jesse Road from Hershey Road to Towanda Barnes Road by 6:30 p.m.
"We've been going three plows wide and just can't keep up," said city Public Works Director Jim Karch at the time.
The system may leave a total of 20 inches of snow in its wake in Central Illinois by the time it moves east Wednesday , but that total may be reduced if the system shifts more to the northeast, said meteorologist Chris Geelhart of the National Weather Service in Lincoln.
There were sustained winds of about 40 mph and gusts up to 53 mph Tuesday night in Bloomington, but the top speed in the area was 63 mph about 5:30 p.m. at Roanoke, he said.
Preliminary snowfall totals ranged from 6 to 8 inches in the area by about 7 p.m., but numbers were imprecise, he said.
"It's a little tough to measure snow in 50 mph winds," Geelhart said.
Authorities urged people to stay indoors and avoid travel until roads are cleared, which could be a couple of days. Emergency services were fully staffed and National Guard troops in Humvees were stationed at interstate rest stops.
In Bloomington-Normal, major employers, schools (including Illinois State University and Heartland Community College), malls, government offices and businesses are closed for the second straight day Wednesday . If people do drive, police urged them to turn on their headlights to increase visibility for oncoming traffic.
An updated, and lengthy, list of closures is at www.pantagraph.com.
Air, rail and ground travel is affected. Check your airport and Amtrak for the latest updates; city buses will not run until at least Thursday.
Red Cross warming shelters and local homeless shelters are open; several smaller towns have set up independent shelters. Hospitals remain open, but some medical facilities will be closed Wednesday .
About 36,000 Ameren Illinois customers statewide were without power Tuesday night as crews struggled with impassible roads, high winds, ice, heavy snow and subzero wind chills.
Locally, about 700 Ameren customers in Bloomington, Normal, Lexington, Stanford and Danvers were without power.
Corn Belt Energy Corp. reported small-line outages affecting 200 customers in Arrowsmith, Deland, Ellsworth, Farmer City, Hopedale, Mackinaw, Minier, Saybrook, Tremont and Weldon.
With wind-driven snow closing streets and making even walking difficult, even city streets were deserted Tuesday after sunset.
Kenny Starr, manager of the Denny's Restaurant on North Main Street in Normal, said his business had only one table of customers at 6 p.m.
"It's kind of a good thing, though, since hardly any of my staff is here either," said Starr.
Starr said the restaurant was busy earlier in the afternoon with many college students and travelers from the nearby interstate highways. But his parking lot was already covered by snow again just 1½ hours after its most recent plowing.
"I've been here 21 years and seen it get pretty busy during snowstorms, but this one is irregular," he said.
While Bloomington and Normal public works departments still had their plows on Twin City streets during the night, the McLean County Highway Department stopped plowing rural routes by 4:30 p.m.
"Visibility is terrible and we're doing more harm than good," said McLean County Highway Engineer Eric Schmitt, who added that his crews were continuing to work only on Towanda Barnes Road.
Schmitt said the county's plows would not return to the rural areas until 4:30 to 5 a.m. Wednesday .
His advice to motorists: "Biggest thing for people to do is get where they need to be and stay there."
Karch said his department would continue to have 36 trucks - twice the normal number of plows - working through the night. Main roads will be a priority.
"It's easier for us to plow 2 to 3 inches at a time than to let it build up and have to plow 18 inches," said Karch.
He said that by morning main roads likely will be snow-packed but passable, but side roads will be covered.
Robin Weaver of the Normal Public Works Department said up to 19 plows were on the street and at least half were going to keep going as long as possible. Weaver said the problem was two-fold: blowing and drifting snow falling behind plows would render the work ineffective, while visibility concerns could lead to the loss of plows.
Jerry Cearlock, operating engineer of the Illinois Department of Transportation, said he had his full staff attacking area highways despite near whiteout conditions in parts of McLean County.
"We have no intentions of stopping until we get through this," he said.
In Livingston County, Highway Engineer David Winters said plowing will resume Wednesday .
The roof of the U.S. Cellular Coliseum will face its first major strength test since it opened in 2006. "The way the steel beams are structured, the (Coliseum) roof should be OK," said Bloomington Facilities Director Bob Floyd.
Illinois State University's Redbird Arena and Horton Field House should be fine, too, said Chuck Scott, executive director of facilities management.
Floyd said snow on the top deck of the Coliseum parking garage may have to be moved to distribute the weight when city crews plow in anticipation of this weekend's state cheerleading finals.
Director Curt Hawk of the McLean County Emergency Management Agency said a New Year's storm in 1999 brought key lessons in preparation.
"Mostly, this year, we are doing much more to plan ahead and make sure we are coordinating equipment, supplies and personnel with the fire and police departments," Hawk said.
That includes making sure Red Cross shelters have alternate power supplies and food, and that snowmobile teams are available when roads prove impassable.
McLean County Sheriff Mike Emery said deputies will cover the jail and will have four-wheel-drive vehicles to cover emergency calls.
By the numbers
Record one-day, two-day and three-day snowfalls by county, through December 2006, as reported to the National Climatic Data Center.
County...Location...One day...Two day...Three day
SOURCE: State climatologist Jim Angel
BLOOMINGTON — It’s been a long time – Feb. 28, 1900 — since Twin City snowfall hit 20 inches in a single day.
For the record, by inches:
20 in.: Feb. 28, 1900
15 in.: Jan. 13, 1927
13 in.: Jan. 6, 1918
12 in.: Jan. 30, 1939
11 in.: Dec. 24, 1915
10 in.: Feb. 14, 2007
SOURCES: Illinois State University, Illinois state climatologist Jim Angel