GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — West Michigan was plagued with snow-covered and slippery roads Wednesday as a winter storm marched across the region, causing slide-offs and crashes, including at least one that was fatal.
At least one person was killed in a crash on eastbound I-96 near Coopersville shortly before noon. Michigan State Police did not release more information.
A stretch of I-96 was closed for about six hours because of the crash, finally reopening just before 6 p.m.
SLIDE-OFFS AND CRASHES IN KALAMAZOO COUNTY
The National Weather Service warned drivers that travel will be difficult in much of southern Lower Michigan on Wednesday and Thursday.
The heaviest snow is expected along and south of the I-94 corridor, including Barry, Calhoun, Jackson, Kalamazoo and Van Buren counties, with 8 to 12 inches of snow forecasted. Areas north will also see a good amount of snow, with 2 to 6 inches expected through Thursday night.
“As you can imagine, it’s been a busy morning and it’s going to continue to be a couple of busy days for us,” said Sarah Phillips, who serves with the Road Commission of Kalamazoo County. “But we are ready to go. This is our season.”
Phillips stressed that drivers should go easy on the gas, especially around the plows.
“They’re very big machines and there’s little visibility all around them,” she explained. “When you’re passing them, it’s hard for them to see, especially passing on the right — that’s where we’re spraying materials, spraying snow… it’s dangerous both for you and the plow driver.”
Citing the poor weather, Battle Creek Transit started detouring buses on Wednesday morning, keeping them on the main roads. You can find detour routes on the service’s Facebook page. If you need help with your trip, you can call Transit at 269.966.3474.
Follow the Michigan Department of Transportation on Twitter for the latest closures in Southwest and West Michigan.
ROAD COMMISSION: ‘TAKE IT EASY’
Road crews were out early Wednesday morning as the snow started to fall in southwest Michigan, but most Michiganders were unfazed.
“Just relax. Take it easy,” David Bammann told News 8. “There’s nothing more you can do. Just let it fall. That’s what Mother Nature does.”
Dan Kurzmann with the Van Buren County Road Commission said his crews were running around the clock, hitting roads as many as three times in just a matter of hours. He said it’s just a part of life near the lakeshore.
“I hit (the roads) first thing in the morning and then I just kind of ran it before I came into the garage,” he said. “Gotta pretty much babysit it all day because it’s not stopping.”
Greg Brucks, also with the Van Buren County Road Commission, had some advice for parents who may have children at home due to a snow day.
“Don’t let kids play by the road,” Brucks said. “With this wet heavy snow, it comes flying off the blades. It could really do some damage. It could really hurt somebody.”
Drivers can track the progress of the MDOT snowplows from the safety of home before hitting the road. Some plows are also equipped with cameras, allowing travelers to see the streets as they are cleared. The map is visible on the Mi Drive website.
Those who venture out are reminded to turn on their headlights, clear all snow and ice from their vehicles and use caution. NWS says drivers should also have an extra flashlight, food and water in their car in case of an emergency.
Business owners are also feeling the impacts of the storm, including Laurie East, who co-owns and manages Totally Brewed Café in Kalamazoo.
“I had one girl that was planning on coming in. I called her, told her to turn around and go back home,” East said.
East thought about keeping the lights on and coffee brewing but later realized closing would keep her staff out of harm’s way.
“We were slow yesterday already, so it’s been slow for a lot of different reasons and this just compounds it,” East explained. “So I’m going home!”
East said she still doesn’t know if she’ll open Friday, given the forecast.
Trash service was canceled in Battle Creek Wednesday, with Republic Services saying conditions were too bad. Pickups are expected to happen Thursday, Friday and Saturday; service may be delayed, but people were told to put their trash out as usual.
Calhoun County courts courts closed at noon. In metro Grand Rapids, Woodland Mall closed at 2 p.m.
The wintry weather could impact flights at the Gerald R. Ford International Airport. Passengers can check real-time flight information online before heading to the airport.
—News 8’s Whitney Burney contributed to this report.