Illinois is bracing once again for what could be the worst winter storm of the season.
The National Weather Service forecasts freezing rain and snow beginning Monday evening and continuing through Wednesday.
“The biggest problem for Shelby County is going to be ice,” said Chris Miller, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Lincoln. “With accumulations 1/2 inch thick on power lines, there could be some power outages. The winds are expected to pick up on Tuesday with gusts up to 40 mile per hour and causing more problems.”
“The last time we had this much ice, power was out for several days,” Miller said, referring to the ice storm in 2006.
Miller noted that the line for snow accumulation sits across Shelby County. The northern part of the county could see 6 inches or more of snow while the southern part of the county may only get a couple of inches.
“The heaviest snow totals will be northwest of Shelby County,” Miller said. “This is a big storm and people need to be prepared for it. Be ready to hunker down for a few days.”
Power services are also preparing for the storm.
Shelby Electric Cooperative is carefully monitoring how the storm is tracking through the western states.
Josh Shallenberger, chief operating officer for SEC, noted that workers in the cooperative’s mutual aid system are available if needed.
“We want members to understand that there are factors beyond our control when it comes to working in the weather,” Shallenberger said. “We ask for their patience. We will be working as diligently as possible to get everybody up and running.”
“Members need to take precautions for their own safety and be prepared to be out of power,” he said.
Ameren Illinois has placed its personnel and associated electric utility contractors on alert in preparation for severe winter weather and the possibility of storm related outages.
“In the event of power outages, we will first assess the damage and deploy the personnel and supplies necessary to begin the job of service restoration. Our first priority will be to correct potentially life-threatening situations, such as downed power lines and to restore service to hospitals and other critical facilities that are without power. We then implement power restoration plans focused on restoring power for the greatest number of customers in the shortest length of time,” said Ron Pate, vice president of Opeations for Ameren Illinois.
“Safety is our first and foremost concern when severe weather strikes,” Pate said.
“The most important safety rule is to stay clear of downed power lines and always call Ameren Illinois at 1-800-755-5000 or ‘911’ (774-3941 in Shelby County) if you see downed lines. Assume all downed power lines are energized. Stay inside, especially at night because you may walk into an energized power line. Stay clear of brush, shrubs and downed trees that may hide downed lines,” Pate said.
Ameren encourages customers use the following tips on preparing for severe weather:
· If any member of your family has a medical condition, plan and make arrangements to have that person’s special needs met in the event electricity is not available for an extended period of time during a storm.
· Make certain your cell phone is fully charged in advance of a storm.
· If your lights go out, check first with a neighbor to see if you are the only one without lights and if so, check your panel box for a tripped circuit breaker or blown fuse. If any breakers are in the "off" position or if a fuse is blown, you should investigate the problem and then reset the breaker or replace the fuse. If your lights are still off, or if others in your neighborhood are without lights, call Ameren Illinois at any time, 24 hours a day, seven days a week – and always call as soon as possible to report a downed line or natural gas odor. The one number for all Ameren Illinois customers is 1-800-755-5000.
The Mid-Illinois Chapter of the American Red Cross is also preparing for the possibility of power outages and helping those in need.
“The biggest thing we recommend is that people have enough medication - insulin, blood pressure medications - to get through a week,” said Glenda Plunkett, manager for Shelby-Moultrie Service Center.
“We also encourage people to top off their gas tanks in their cars, have enough food for a week, get a couple of bags of ice for the freezer (in case of power outage), and have contacts lined up.” Plunkett said.
Shelby County EMS coordinator Jared Rowcliffe advises people to have NOAA weather radios on hand for updated weather bulletins. Local weather information is also available at www.weather.gov (type in ZIP code) and www.noaa.gov.
“Find an alternative power source and have water blankets and candles available,” Rowcliffe advises. “Stay inside. Don’t travel unless you absolutely have to.”
The Shelby County Sheriff’s Office strongly advises people that if they don’t have to be out, stay in.
“If you do have to be out, slow down,” said Chief Deputy John Gee. “The biggest reason why people end up in the ditch is because they are driving too fast for conditions.”
The Daily Union website, www.shelbyvilledailyunion.com, will continually be updated as information becomes available.