Crawford County's first winter storm, which arrived on Christmas Day, is finally disappearing under sunny skies and above-freezing temperatures this week. But there's a lot of winter left, if you look at the region's history.
Illinois normally experiences five severe winter storms each year. During the winter of 2007-08 there were 16 severe winter storms, five of which impacted one third or more of the state.
There has not been a winter in Illinois without at least two winter storms in the past century. The worst winters for storms were 1977-78 and 1981-82, when there were 18 winter storms each.
Average annual snowfall ranges from nearly 40 inches of snow north of Chicago, to as little as 5 inches in the southern tip of Illinois. In central Illinois the average is 20 to 25 inches, while areas south of Interstate 70 normally experience 12 to 16 inches.
Several major ice storms have impacted Illinois in recent years. On Dec. 1, 2006, most of southwest and central Illinois had 1 to 2 inches of ice, which disrupted power to about 500,000 people and caused more than $125 million in damages.
Another major ice storm hit southern Illinois from Jan. 26 through the 28th in 2009. Nearly 2 inches of ice caused more than $50 Million in damages and caused week-long power outages. Two storms at the end of January and early February 2010 left about one-third of an inch of ice on everything in Crawford County. Roads were impassible and thousands lost electricity.
In February 2011, about one-third inch of ice brought down tree limbs and knocked out electrical service across the county. Amounts of freezing rain and sleet across the region ranged from two-tenths inch in Lawrence County to two and one-half inches at Mattoon. Thousands of area Ameren customers and Norris Electric Cooperative members were without power.
More than 125 people have died from exposure to cold temperatures in the state of Illinois since 1997. During the same time, there have been 32 deaths caused by severe thunderstorms and tornadoes, 25 caused by floods and 13 by lightning.
The coldest temperature on record in the state occurred Jan. 5, 1999, when the mercury dipped to 36 below zero near Congerville in Woodford County.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency is urging everyone to prepare for the possibility of severe winter storms and extreme temperatures.
Severe winter weather can include snow or subfreezing temperatures, strong winds and ice or heavy rain storms. An emergency supply kit at home and in the car will help prepare people for power outages and icy or impassable roads.
An emergency supply kit should include a three-day supply of food and water for each person, a battery-powered or hand-crank radio, extra flashlights and fresh batteries, and any items to meet the unique needs of your family. These items should include:
· Matches for lighting candles and gas stoves or clean burning heaters.
· Prescription medicines and baby supplies.
· Food that can be kept in coolers and a manual can opener.
· A non-cordless telephone and/or fully charged cellular phone.
· Bottled drinking water.
· Battery-powered emergency lights and radio.
· Adequate clothing and blankets to keep you warm.
Local residents should also keep on hand rock salt to melt ice on walkways, sand to improve traction, snow shovels and other snow removal equipment, wood for a properly ventilated fireplace and sufficient heating fuel. If heat goes out, they should never use a generator or other gasoline, propane, natural gas or charcoal-burning devices inside a home.
Additionally, these tips will help families get through the winter:
· Make a family communications plan. Families may not be together when disaster strikes, so it is important for members to know how to contact one another, how to get back together and what to do in case of an emergency.
· Listen to a NOAA Weather Radio or other local news channels for critical information from the NWS and public safety officials. Be alert to changing weather conditions.
· Minimize travel. If travel is necessary, keep an emergency supply kit in your vehicle.
· Bring pets/companion animals inside during winter weather. Move other animals or livestock to sheltered areas.
Finally, everyone should get familiar with the terms that are used to identify a winter storm hazard and discuss with your family what to do if a watch or warning is issued. Terms used to describe a winter storm hazard include the following:
· Freezing rain creates a coating of ice on roads and walkways.
· Sleet is rain that turns to ice pellets before reaching the ground. Sleet also causes roads to freeze and become slippery.
· Winter Weather Advisory means cold, ice and snow are expected.
· Winter Storm Watch means severe weather such as heavy snow or ice is possible in the next day or two.
· Winter Storm Warning means severe winter conditions have begun or will begin soon.
More helpful tips and recommendations can be found at www.ready.gov/winter.
Also, state officials say seniors are more susceptible to falling ill as temperatures drop. The Illinois Department on Aging is offering tips for seniors this winter. Department director John Holton said the flu season runs through April and a flu shot is strongly recommended for people ages 50 years or older.
The other tips include checking the furnace, keeping thermostats above 65 degrees and dressing in layers.
State officials also recommend that seniors keep active, eat well, drink 10 glasses of water each day, stock up on non-perishable food supplies and keep extra medications in the house.