Eastern experiences power outages, storm conditions


Cassie Buchman

An Eastern groundskeeper plows snow next to the Biological Sciences building on Wednesday. The snow and wind is expected to subside as the day goes on.

Stephanie Markham, Editor-in-Chief

Central Illinois was under a blizzard warning most of Wednesday ending at 9 p.m. causing power outages and dangerous conditions throughout Charleston and other areas.

The winter storm warning started at 6 a.m. but escalated to a blizzard warning as wind gusts of 45 to 50 mph combined with snow to produce near whiteout conditions, according to the National Weather Service.

Eastern climatologist Cameron Craig said a low-pressure system from western Kentucky into southern Indiana and northern Ohio is responsible for bringing the snow.

Craig said snow totals would range from 4 to 6 inches; however, he expects these conditions to be short-lived as temperatures rise to the 40s and 50s this weekend.

Ameren spokeswoman Marcelyn Love said crews were dispatched to assess and restore power outages, but the weather slowed down progress to some degree.

Numbers varied throughout the day in Coles County from about 300 outages Wednesday morning to upwards of 6,000 by noon and dwindled back down.

Love said additional personnel were called in to assist in repairing widespread infrastructure damage, as about 100 broken or leaning poles and 300 downed power lines were reported.

Dan Ensen, director of the Coles County Emergency Management Agency, said the city of Charleston experienced a power outage Wednesday morning lasting about 20 minutes.

He said because most of the county’s power outages were being attended to, they did not cause much disruption, and no shelters had to be opened.

However, Ensen encourages people to have kits prepared in their homes and vehicles including non-perishable food, drinks and warm clothing and blankets in case they have to wait in an extended outage situation.

Tim Zimmer, Eastern’s director of facilities, planning and management, said the entire campus lost power for a while when the city experienced its outage.

Zimmer said all generators kicked on successfully, so heat was on throughout campus despite the lack of electricity.

The Renewable Energy Center’s generator experienced an issue that facilities workers were able to resolve, Zimmer said.

He said an emergency generator would be able to keep the boilers on at the Renewable Energy Center so heat can continue to be provided to campus.

“We had a couple hiccups due to the power. We plan to run the emergency generator all night just in case there are more problems with the power due to the high winds with the power lines,” Zimmer said. “We have an obligation to the students to provide heat as best we can, and for us the best way to do that is to run the generator all night.”

Eastern’s power outage did cause some issues, such as a student getting temporarily stuck in the Lawson Hall elevator and the fire alarm needing to be reset at the Martin Luther King Jr. University Union.

“It’s the sort of thing that happens every time we lose power,” Zimmer said. “It just takes time to get everything reset.”

He said they have to reset the alarms, the lights and the temperature control system. “Fortunately for us we have personnel on staff who were able to address just about all those things,” Zimmer said.

Facilities workers were also out clearing snow from sidewalks and parking lots.

Zimmer said the staff was slightly reduced because some had travel issues, but the others were present for their normal shifts before the snow started.

If anyone notices a slick spot on campus, Zimmer said it can be reported to facilities and workers will apply salt or Ice Melt to the area.

“This weather could have been a lot worse,” Zimmer said. “With it being this warm, we haven’t really seen the (snow) drifting that we were worried about, and the weather has been hovering right around freezing, so all the slush that was on the streets and sidewalks hasn’t turned to ice yet.”

Ice was still a concern and potential danger for roads, however.

Ensen said I-57 remained open, though numerous accidents occurred.

The state police warned drivers to only use the highway if absolutely necessary.

He said driving conditions should be safe by Thursday as long as the snow lets up and trucks can get out to plow the roads.

“With the blowing snow, if you get stuck, there’s no telling how long you’ll be there,” he said. “The big concern right now is we just really don’t want people out driving around if they don’t have to be.”


Stephanie Markham can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected]