A Thawville woman's car slid into a southbound locomotive near Gilman and was shoved off the tracks into a ditch, but she walked away with only minor injuries.
Such was the situation Thursday afternoon and evening, when the first significant snowfall of the season restricted visibility and made pavement slick. Some motorists had close calls, but no serious accidents were reported by late evening.
Traffic crashes and falls resulting from the snow sent several people to Twin City hospital emergency departments.
But all the injuries were minor as of early evening.
Snowfall totals of 3 to almost 5 inches were recorded in Central Illinois, according to the National Weather Service in Lincoln.
Many school districts canceled extracurricular activities Thursday afternoon, but few schools sent students home.
Snow isn't in today's forecast today, but a 30 percent chance of snow is expected Saturday and Sunday, the National Weather Service said.
Charity Rulli, 17, of Thawville was driving west on U.S. 24 about half a mile west of Gilman in Iroquois County about 4:15 p.m. Thursday, said state police at Ashkum.
Rulli approached tracks where lights were flashing, but there was no gate, Master Sgt. Ruben Bautista said.
Heavy snowfall affected visibility and traction. When she braked, her car slid into the locomotive of a southbound Canadian National freight train.
The train pushed aside her car, which slid about 15 feet and end up in a ditch.
She had minor abrasions, police said. She was charged with driving too fast for conditions.
Sheriff's police in McLean and surrounding counties had little to report Thursday evening, although areas were on collision alert. That means people involved in accidents without injuries should exchange information and then report the accident to police within 24 hours.
Collision alert conditions free police from having to respond to every fender-bender accident when they are needed more urgently elsewhere.
The situation was harder for state police in Central Illinois.
State police at Pesotum, for instance, said they were not letting tow trucks pull cars out of ditches Thursday evening because blowing snow made it too dangerous.
State police at Pontiac handled a few dozen calls of vehicles in ditches from 3 to 6 p.m.
The McLean County Highway Department had out 18 rigs Thursday, said Jack Mitchell, engineer with the McLean County Highway Department. Sixteen of them were trucks with snowplows, and the other two were graders with plows.
"The first couple snows are always the rough ones," Mitchell said, because drivers have to practice their winter-driving skills.
And he had two pieces of safety advice for drivers when around snowplows:
w It's best not to pass them because the roads are generally slick and often there's poor visibility.
w If meeting a snowplow on the road, a driver should give it room, he said. "The best thing is to pull as far over to the right. That could be a big help."
Most local schools kept students in class despite the snow, but many canceled extracurricular activities.
Central Catholic High School was among the few to let out early. Those students left at 1:30 p.m. - shortly after snow began blanketing the Twin Cities.
Events at rural Stanford-based Olympia, Bloomington's District 87, Lexington, Downs-based Tri-Valley and LeRoy school districts were canceled. While some events in Normal-based Unit 5 were called off, Superintendent Alan Chapman left that choice to the principals of each campus.
In DeWitt County, the weather related incidents began early in the afternoon but tapered off as motorists made it home after work.
"We were scattered all over at one point," DeWitt County Sheriff Roger Massey said shortly after 5 p.m. as he patrolled U.S. 51 north of Clinton.
Traffic mishaps in the county included a rollover and numerous cars off the road. No injuries were reported.
Extra staff was called in for the snowstorm. "Overall, it's not as bad as we anticipated," Massey said.
Staff writer Paul Swiech and Regional reporter Edith Brady-Lunny contributed to this story.
The Pantagraph/B MOSHER
Above: Employee Adrian Rameriz of Bloomington tries to clear the sidewalk at the the Culver's restaurant on Hershey Road in Bloomington on Thursday evening. A snowstorm that started about noon dropped at least three inches of snow on the Twin Cities.
Left: Bill Mitchell of Bloomington sweeps snow off his car outside his home on West Olive Street Thursday. Mitchell was preparing to drive to KMart to pick up friends doing Christmas shopping.
For more photos of Twin City residents out in the snow,see Page A6.