TONICA — Oftentimes winter weather creates scenic beauty. However, this past week in the Illinois Valley was anything other than a wonderland.
Record-setting cold that provided a local experience of Arctic conditions swept across much of the nation last week and created life-threatening conditions. Snow quickly turned to freezing rain. That was followed by more snow, wind, ice and then more snow. Accompanying that was a dramatic drop into sub-zero temperatures on Wednesday and Thursday, with actual temperatures in the 20-below-zero range, with frighteningly cold wind chills that approached minus 50 degrees.
Bob Byrne, a member of the Cooperative Observer Program with the National Weather Service — Quad Cities, said this January is making the record books.
Byrne said he has recorded the monthly snowfall in the area so far at 18.1 inches, which just beats the record of 18 inches set in January 2014.
Schools across the Illinois Valley, including those in Tonica and Lostant, closed because of the hazardous conditions and many have used their allotted snow days for the year. Further closures will have to be approved by the Regional Office of Education.
Impact on schools
Tonica Grade School Superintendent Chuck Schneider said there had been no issues reported regarding the building’s condition following the deep freeze.
“Our parking lots and sidewalks have been cleared, but may need a little TLC after any new snow, and our maintenance and custodial staff prepared the building for the cold weather. We’ve had seven days canceled due to weather conditions: one just after Thanksgiving, two last week and four this week,” he said.
He also said graduation has not been impacted and that as of now, it looks like the last day of school for Tonica Grade School students will be June 3.
Lostant Superintendent Sandra Malahy reported her students have missed six days so far because of weather.
“Hazardous road conditions drive the decision whether or not to cancel school, and we haven’t experienced weather-related equipment breakdowns,” she said.
Graduation in Lostant, however, may be rescheduled. Malahy said Lostant students will now be in school through June 7, and that teachers will be working through June 11.
Schools weren’t the only places closing their doors. Several announcements were made throughout the week by area stores, restaurants and a several public buildings that kept their employees home during the worst of the weather.
Garbage companies pushed back their routes for the week, and the U.S. Postal Service suspended mail deliveries during the cold snap for the safety of their letter carriers. The Putnam County Community Center, along with the Bureau Putnam Rural Area Transit (BPART), also put out notices letting people know they would be closed.
The LaSalle County Sheriff’s Office allowed their officers to let their patrol cars idle as needed during the worst of the weather as long as they were secured.
Tonica Volunteer Fire Department Officer Rick Turri said he was thankful his department hadn’t experienced any major issues other than assisting with a garage fire in Lostant. During that fire, the strong and frigid winds helped to protect the nearby home from damage.
Keeping customers warm
Area heating and plumbing contractors have understandably been kept quite busy.
“We’ve been very, very busy. There’s been a lot of ‘No heat,’ calls and several broken water lines,” Heather Davis, dispatcher for Grasser’s Plumbing and Heating of McNabb, said.
Tonica’s Town and Country Services was also asked how the weather impacted their workforce, but as of press time had yet to respond.
Local ethanol manufacturer Marquis Energy was asked if the polar temperatures had any effect on their production capabilities
“During the extreme cold temperatures, we take extra precaution with the safety of our staff, but we continue to run at a full production rate of over a million gallons of ethanol per day,” Danielle Anderson of Marquis reported.
The commercial greenhouse Color Point, of Granville, was asked how the glacial weather had impacted their operations and delicate products, but had yet to respond by press time.
Following the extreme cold, temperatures rose almost as dramatically as they had previously fallen. Daytime temperatures during the following weekend rose well into the 40s and also included rain and fog.
While the surprising warmth diminished much of the snowfall, nighttime temperatures continued to drop below freezing and kept icy roads a concern for snowplow drivers who worked to keep roads safe for local motorists.
As area residents emerge from bone-chilling cold amid the early days of February, keep in mind the first day of spring is only a little more than six weeks away.