CHARLESTON -- Based on the past two snow events and the stinging chills that have swept through the area, this is and will continue to be a very different type of winter from what locals saw last season.
Last winter, temperatures on average were milder and snow precipitation was scarce. Eastern Illinois University Climatologist Cameron Craig said the area saw less than 7 inches of snow throughout the previous winter season. The 30-year-average is 19 inches of snowfall in the area, according to national weather service numbers.
And this time around, the season has already shown signs of a more harsh winter with single-digit temperatures and more consistent snowfall. The Christmastime snowfall alone garnered 1.6 inches of snow in the area and Craig said that could be a recurring theme of the season.
Based on rough estimates of the months to come, he said temperatures are expected to be below average for much of the season and precipitation is estimated to be significantly above normal.
“People who enjoy snow will get more this year,” Craig said.
This does not bar the season from producing warm events throughout or dry spells, but the outlook for the season as a whole paints a more harsh time period.
This outlook is not the ideal situation for city and utility crews across the area. Slick streets in need of salt and snow plowing, and downed power lines, often follow close behind this type of weather. But local leaders in the field said they are prepared for the harsh winter weather like they are every year.
Like in years past, Curt Buescher, Charleston Public Works director, said he hopes for a mild winter because it doesn't require the need to purchase more salt, but the city is well stocked with salt to keep the roads relatively cleared off. Charleston crews have 475 tons of salt for the season, much of which was unused salt from last year.
Dean Barber, Mattoon Public Works director, said the city purchased 100 tons with 300 tons held over from last year.
Barber said a city around this size will roughly use about 100-400 tons of salt each season.
“We have enough salt on hand to get us through,” he said.
Public works crews will also be battling an expected continuous barrage of busted water main breaks and leaks because of freezing throughout the winter, Barber said. There might be one every week, he estimated. But, it is a common problem that public works departments face during the winter that they are well equipped to handle, Barber noted.
Buescher said that he hopes there will be breaks between the waves of bitter chills passing through to continue work on the Lake Charleston pavilion, the 10th Street sidewalk and the UV disinfection projects the city has been working on. The UV disinfection project is particularly time sensitive, with a May 1 deadline, he said.
Ameren Illinois crews in the area expect to combat downed power lines with the mixture of lower temperatures and bolstered precipitation this season. Ameren Illinois spokeswoman Kelly Hendrickson said they usually see this happen exclusively during ice storms though.
She said when it does occur, they usually have teams ready to quickly repair the line and restore power.
Historically, more harsh temperatures will also mean more power use, but Hendrickson said they will have plenty of natural gas, purchased earlier this year in storage fields to sustain these increases in power use.
This outlook also warrants more precautions by locals when heading outside. Charleston Police Department Deputy Chief Chad Reed said people need to make sure their vehicles are in good shape to handle what this season will dish out. This includes simply keeping the vehicle fueled. Reed said police get called out to vehicles that shut down because of a lack of fuel often, especially in the winter months.
This can become especially dangerous in the winter. Reed said having blankets and a cellphone in the car also would be beneficial at this time of the year.
This season, locals are also urged to be mindful of space heaters and how they go about warming up their water pipes. This week, one Charleston resident set insulation on fire in an attempt to warm up his pipes with a blow torch. Lt. Frank Delgadillo of the Charleston Fire Department said these kinds of incidents come up in the winter.
He suggested that those who need to thaw out their pipes should seek out a professional in the field instead of attempting to do so with a space heater or blow torch.
This season could be especially harsh especially in comparison to the last, however, this will mean good things for spring. Craig said that significant ground freezing will do a good job of diminishing the abundance of pests and insects that were prevalent this year. He said the freezing temperatures might reset the population.
Also, continued precipitation will help prevent ground drought in the following seasons, he said.
The weekend is forecasted to be very similar to that of Monday-Wendesday this week with single-digit temperatures.