Snow removal crews were busy Wednesday and Thursday, December 26 and 27, in Johnson County as they cleared an estimated 14 inches off of roadways.
An additional four to six inches of snow was added over night Friday.
Emergency personnel in the county were also kept busy responding to a total of ten weather-related calls both on and off Interstate 24, with the worst accident involving a mini van requiring three of its injured occupants to be airlifted to area hospitals (see crash story below).
“The injuries that were flown out could have been life threatening,” said ambulance service coordinator Wendi Bailey. “We had all three of our ambulances, an ambulance from Lake of Egypt, one from Massac County and helicopters from Marion, Perryville, Mo. and Mt. Vernon [responding to the call].”
Jim Haney, Johnson County’s ESDA coordinator assisted the medics in reaching the crash scene.
Traffic on I-24 across Johnson County had been slowed all day, sometimes to a crawl or full standstill, due to the storm.
The season’s first snowfall was some of Southern Illinois’ most accumulation in years with the Edwards County town of Albion receiving a whopping 18 inches. The Paducah, Ky. National Weather Service branch issued its first blizzard warning in its 21-year history, canceling the warning later Wednesday as it put a Winter Weather Advisory in effect until 3 p.m. with more accumulation predicted for Friday. The weather advisory called for snow and blowing snow with a possible two or three inches of accumulation and heavier snow bands across southeast Illinois.
“Blowing and drifting snow will continue through much of the afternoon,” reported the advisory. “This will make for hazardous conditions. Some roadways, especially secondary roads in southwest Indiana and Southern Illinois, will remain locally impassable.”
The National Weather Service out of Paducah issued a preliminary local storm report for Johnson County submitted by a trained spotter at 12:20 p.m., Dec. 26 measuring 14 inches for the region.
Much of the county remained deserted until well past noon Wednesday, and into Thursday, with officials requesting motorists to limit their travel.
An emergency storm shelter was opened at the Fellowship Baptist Church in Vienna to assist stranded Interstate 24 travelers.
The church began receiving holiday travelers at 6:30 a.m. Wednesday morning.
Josh Stafford, a volunteer shelter worker, said there were as many as 14 people to take refuge throughout the day at the church.
“We had one gentleman from Tennessee that had been stranded in his vehicle on the interstate for 12 hours,” he explained. “Another family from Godfrey, Illinois, was stranded for three hours.”
According to Stafford, the average stay at the church was about four hours.
“We had about a dozen volunteers working at the shelter. Some were assisting law enforcement picking up stranded travelers, and later returning them to their vehicles,” he said.
Reports from the sheriff’s office included some travelers opting to get off the interstate to find alternate routes.
Johnson County Sheriff Elry Faulnker said, “We had several people trusting their GPS systems to get around the interstate delays.”
“Several of those were later stranded on the county roads,” he said.
Buncombe Road was closed for several hours while tow trucks pulled as many as six out-of-area vehicles from ditches and snowdrifts.
Simpson road (Rt. 147) had two semi trucks stranded at the base of Beagle Hill. According to the sheriff, the drivers were also relying on their GPS’s to avoid the traffic jam on the interstate.
The county’s secondary roads remained mostly impassable until Thursday leaving many vehicles stranded in their driveways.
Lonnie Rion, owner of Rion Feed in Vienna, lives in Union County just west of the county line. He said, “It took me a day and a half to hand-shovel 1/4 mile of my road to get out.”
“I was so mad! The county cleared the 1-1/2 mile road to within that 1/4 mile of my house and stopped.”
“As long as I’ve had the Vienna store, the weather has not kept me from opening before,” Rion said.
Rion’s was not the only business affected by the Wednesday storm. Very few businesses were opened that day.
Some gas stations in Vienna saw a huge increase in business at times as delayed motorists made their way to purchase much needed fuel.
Sam’s IGA was open, but had little business during the morning hours. Many customers that did enter the store were on foot.
It was a common sight to see local residents walking through town with an arm full of grocery bags while wading through the deep snow.
The county courthouse and most government offices did not open due to the extreme conditions.
Only a few post offices in the county were able to deliver mail. Mail trucks from Carbondale were unable to reach several offices, delaying mail delivery until the next day.
Mail carriers, that were able to report to work Wednesday and Thursday, were delayed by limited access to roads and mailboxes in some areas by as much as two or more days.