By Tom Collins and Jeff Dankert
OTTAWA — A Wedron man is dead in a weather-related crash. Another train accident has tired first responders toiling at the rails. Schools have depleted their allotted snow days.
The rest of us are simply cold and fed up with Mother Nature, which capped off the blizzard-like conditions with a deep freeze that had thermometers stuck at minus-10 this morning.
Meteorologists last week issued a miserable forecast and they were, sadly, right on the money. A quick succession of snow, wind and deep cold kept the roads hazardous and a drive-at-your-own-risk warning remained in force today.
Weather is blamed for a fatal collision at 11:30 a.m. Monday on Route 71 northeast of Ottawa. Kevin Higgins, 36, of Wedron was killed when his pickup slid past a stop sign from a rural road and into the path of a southbound semi. He was pronounced dead at the scene and an unidentified passenger was taken to OSF St. Elizabeth Medical Center, Ottawa.
Rural roads weren’t the only routes made impassable by snow. Monday afternoon, a freight train was halted near Arlington in almost the same location where an Amtrak train was stranded earlier this month.
“It must be stuck because they’re taking large excavating equipment to it,” reported Brad Bonnell, a member of the Arlington Fire Department, which responded to the incident.
At least this time authorities didn’t have to worry about the health and well-being of passengers, which was the case earlier this month when Amtrak riders had to be bused out of town.
Illinois Valley residents were warned to stay home but many found it necessary to brave the slick roads, anyway.
Russ Guynn left Granville at about 10 p.m. Sunday to drive to his home seven miles away. It took him a half-hour using Route 89, he said.
“It was pretty rough,” Guynn said. “I was seeing cars off the road. Nothing you can do, you know? I drove 20-30 mph and then all of a sudden I hit pure whiteout. I just stopped in the middle of Route 89. I couldn’t see. That’s how people go in the ditch.”
Al Scholle, Scholle’s Towing, Peru began laughing Monday afternoon when asked about the number of towed vehicles.
“Pretty much everywhere,” he said. “We’ve been towing trucks all morning and a few cars. There are cars all over in the ditches.”
Nicole Bland of Spring Valley was cut loose from her job at Walgreen’s an hour early Sunday night so that she could get home in a timely fashion. The early dismissal didn’t much help.
“It took me 45 minutes to get (from Peru) to Spring Valley,” Bland said. “I had to stop a couple of times because I couldn’t see a thing.
“I’m so ready for spring.”
Spring remains a ways off, but the National Weather Service reports that some relief is on the way. A wind chill warning remains in effect until noon, after which the temperature mercifully will rise to a daytime high of 7 degrees, which at least is above zero.
After today, we’ll be in double-digits. Wednesday will sunshine and a high of 24 degrees, which is sufficient to get school buses running and to melt slick roads.
Old Man Winter isn’t finished with us yet, however. The National Weather Service in Romeoville reported snow is forecast — 30 percent to 50 percent chance — from Thursday through Saturday.
“It’s kind of two systems,” explained Matt Friedlein, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Romeoville. “There’s one on Thursday that will bring the chance mainly for light snow. The second system (coming this weekend) could be more appreciable, but it may not move as far north as the Illinois Valley, either.”
The one day with no snow forecast is Super Bowl Sunday — when most people will be indoors watching TV, anyway.
Meanwhile, area residents are coping with the second subzero spell during a bitter January.
Illinois Valley Community Hospital is among the warming centers and shelters that were opened Tuesday to shield people from the bitter cold (see sidebar, page A3) and an IVCH spokesman reported one person hunkering down in the hospital cafeteria for warmth.
Other brave souls were out and about Monday when temperatures stood at minus-3 or lower. Liz and Carlo Olivero bundled up early to head for St. Thomas More Church in Dalzell to make pasta for this week’s raviola sales, an ongoing fundraiser to keep the cash-strapped parish afloat.
“We have to have dough ready for Wednesday,” Liz said, shrugging off the bitter cold. She then joked they probably could unplug their freezer and simply store the dough outside.
Tom Collins can be reached at (815) 220-6930 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Jeff Dankert can be reached at (815) 220-6977 or email@example.com.