Sauk Valley’s Friday snowstorm a slippery affair; big chill ahead

Lee County sheriff: ‘Tow truck drivers are lickin’ their chops’

A large accumulation of snow is seen on a statue of Mary outside of St. Mary’s School in Dixon Friday, Jan. 12, 2024.

DIXON – Friday’s snow fell fast and heavy; closed schools, businesses and rural roads; and caused many a sensible driver to pay heed to the annual it-be-a-blizzardin’ advice: If you don’t need to go anywhere, don’t.

About 5 fresh inches were on the ground by noon in most places.

It’s no snowmageddon just yet, but it’s also not over. Some places could see as much as 8 to 12 inches by the time this snowstorm blows itself out Saturday night, and much, much colder temps are in the offing, dropping from the balmy mid-30s to which we’ve become accustomed to frostbite-friendly negative double digits.

With the safety of their students, customers and workers in mind, schools and many businesses either didn’t open or closed early Friday, and much the same might be expected Saturday, so if you must go, maybe call ahead first.

On the bright side, as of noon, there were no reports of any major weather-related crashes in Lee, Ogle or Whiteside counties, but Whiteside Sheriff John Booker warned that many rural roads were likely to be buried under snowdrifts.

Ogle County echoed that sentiment first thing Friday:

“Road conditions are nearly impassable in many locations, and visibility is less than 30 feet. Only go out if it’s an emergency. We are responding to accidents and cars in the ditch, with no guarantee as to when we would be able to get to you,” officials there said.

People seemed to be aware. When it came to traffic mishaps, “we are not busy at all,” Booker said about 2 p.m.

The same was true for Sterling, which by 2 p.m. had dealt with only one minor fender-bender and one vehicle stuck in the snow, Deputy Chief Pat Bartel said.

No such luck in Lee County, however, where Sheriff Clay Whelan spent all day out on patrol, helping stranded motorists.

By 2 p.m., there was no major accident to report, but he and his deputies had handled more than 30 vehicles that slid into ditches or snowbanks, Whelan said.

“Tow truck drivers are lickin’ their chops,” he said.

Thanks to diligent snowplow jockeys, the roads were a little bit better by then, “but I think things are going to get worse again after dark, once it freezes and everything starts blowing,” he said.

Just how much snow actually landed by mid-afternoon Friday was a little hard to tell.

The National Weather Service Quad Cities has a lack of volunteer weather spotters, whom the service will train and whom it relies on for snowfall and other weather measurements.

That means reports out of Whiteside County were sparse, with 5 inches reported in Tampico as of 10 a.m., and about 2.7 southwest of Como.

The heavier band of snow was falling to the southwest of the county.

National Weather Service Chicago, which covers Lee and Ogle counties, had more totals available but only reports called in as of 8 a.m. Friday, with updates not expected until Saturday morning.

In Lee County, observers noted 4 inches in Amboy and Nelson on Friday morning, a little more than 4 inches in Dixon, as much as 7 inches in Paw Paw, but as few as 2 in Steward.

No reports were in from Ogle County as of Friday afternoon.

As temperatures start to plummet to dangerously low levels, this wet, heavy snow is going to get its crunch on and will be harder to shovel. Blustery winds are going to make for visibility issues, so this will be a great weekend to stay indoors and binge watch TV. For those with fireplaces, smoke ‘em if you got ‘em.

According to National Fire Protection Association, heating equipment is the leading cause of house fires this time of year, while cooking equipment is the leading cause of home fires year-round. The third-leading cause of home fires is electrical equipment, with 3 in 10 electrical fires occurring between November and February.

Should you have furnace issues and nowhere to go, be careful with those space heaters, and follow the directions faithfully – for instance, plug them into the wall, not an extension cord.

If the problem is electrical or you otherwise don’t have heat, remember ovens are not a substitute.

There are a few spots around the Sauk Valley that open their doors as temporary emergency warming centers. Find a list here.

If all else fails, call your local law enforcement agency for help.

The chilly week ahead in the Sauk Valley, per the NWS:

Saturday

Whiteside County: There’s a chance of snow before 7 a.m., then periods of snow showers with patchy blowing snow before 4 p.m. The temperature will fall to about 16 by 5 p.m, with wind chill values as low as zero.

Expect a west-northwest wind around 20 mph, with gusts as high as 35 mph. The chance of precipitation is 80%, but that’s less than an inch of new snow through the night, which will see a low around minus 2 with a wind chill as low as minus 17.

Lee and Ogle counties: Pretty similar, except temps are forecast to fall to about 11 by 5 p.m, with wind chills as low as minus 8 during the day, and a low around minus 5 with wind chills to minus 24 overnight.

For the rest of the week, the forecasts are about the same for everyone:

Sunday

Partly sunny and cold, with a high near 2 and a low around minus 14. West wind around 15 mph, gusting as high as 25 mph.

Monday

Partly sunny and cold, with a high near 0 and a low around minus 15.

Tuesday

Partly sunny and cold, with a high near minus 1 and a low around minus 10.

Wednesday

Warming up a bit, with partly sunny skies, a high near 12 and a low around 1.

Thursday

Partly sunny, with a high near 15.

Kathleen Schultz

Kathleen A. Schultz

Kathleen Schultz is a Sterling native with 40 years of reporting and editing experience in Arizona, California, Montana and Illinois.

Earleen Hinton

Earleen Hinton

Earleen creates content and oversees production of 8 community weeklies. She has worked for Shaw Newspapers since 1985.