GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Drivers can expect hazardous road conditions and reduced visibility due to blowing snow as a winter storm moves through West Michigan.

“We can’t stress enough, it’s really our first winter snowstorm of significance, and it’s a pretty tough one. It’s not the normal, we get a couple inches and we can get through it. This takes patience, it takes us to reeducate ourselves, rethink about out driving habits, and just get back into winter driving,” Kent County Road Commission Deputy Managing Director of Operations Jerry Byrne said.

Byrne said there will be around 35 trucks taking care of roads between 6 p.m. Thursday to 6 a.m. Friday. He said in the current snow conditions, crews are using a 50-50 mix of sand and salt. Crews will be applying a heavy amount of sand and salt around 4 a.m. to get ready for the morning rush hour, he said.

A semitruck on the side of the road on westbound I-96 on Dec. 17, 2022.
A jackknifed semitruck on the side of the road on westbound I-96 near Saranac on Dec. 17, 2022. (Courtesy Matthew S Jackson)

Byrne warned that drivers need to be careful with the variable road conditions, and should be prepared for conditions and visibility to drastically change in just a few miles. He also reminded drivers that just because a road doesn’t look icy, doesn’t mean it’s not.

“Pay attention to those changing conditions. We can’t stress that enough during a whiteout,” Byrne said. “Because this is when we see those multiple car accidents, when people are really driving 70 miles an hour and suddenly they can’t see, and they don’t slow down in time.”

Friday’s conditions are expected to be similar to Thursday’s, he said. Drivers should give themselves extra time for their commute.

“We expect it to be drivable, but at probably half speeds. So if it normally takes you 15 minutes to get to work, give yourself 30. Or if it takes 30, give yourself an hour,” Byrne said.

The Kent County Road Commission reminds drivers not to crowd snowplows, to maintain a safe distance and not to pass a snowplow on the right.

Michigan State Police say a cruiser in Barry County was involved in a two-vehicle crash in Hope Township, southwest of Hastings, on Thursday. No one was hurt. The other driver was ticketed for speeding.

“It’s your obligation to maintain control of your vehicle at all times. Driving too fast for conditions can lead to a crash,” MSP tweeted.

An MSP cruiser after a crash in Hope Township on Nov. 17, 2022. (Courtesy Michigan State Police)
An MSP cruiser after a crash in Hope Township on Nov. 17, 2022. (Courtesy Michigan State Police)

According to the National Weather Service, there are two significant challenges on the roads. First, drivers may experience sudden changes in snow intensity, traction and speed. Second, it will take drivers longer to stop due to warm pavement melting snow and cold air freezing it into ice.

NWS issued a Winter Weather Warning for most of West Michigan until 7 a.m. Saturday with snow totals ranging from 6 to 12 inches.

PEOPLE STOCK UP ON SNOWSTORM SUPPLIES

Hardware stores in West Michigan are seeing an increase in business as customers stock up on their snowstorm supplies.

Scott Kingsland, with Kingsland ACE Hardware in Cascade, said the business was not expecting a significant snowstorm before Thanksgiving. 

“Getting this early season snow really puts the winter mindset into a lot of people,” Kingsland said. “Getting the salt, snowblowers, snow brushes, all ready for wintertime.”     

With many people testing out their snowblowers and realizing they won’t make it through another season, the business is seeing more customers coming into the repair shop.

“Our repair facility is overwhelmed right now. Dropping from doing leaves last week to blowing snow this week. It really created a pretty drastic transition and it puts a lot of stress on us but … we’ve got two people working back there full time making some good headway on it,” Kingsland said.

Kingsland ACE Hardware in Cascade.
Kingsland ACE Hardware in Cascade on Nov. 17, 2022.

Ron Carlotti stopped by Kingsland ACE Hardware to browse the snowblowers. He tested his out and realized it is no longer working and will likely need to be replaced. He said preparing for snow is an important part of living in a snow state.

“I don’t mind it. I can’t say I actually look forward to it but all our kids live in Michigan, all the grandkids so we’re staying here, we’re not going to Florida except maybe to go on cruise trip,” Carlotti said. 

Those who venture out are reminded to turn on their headlights, clear all snow and ice from their vehicles and use caution. In addition, drivers should make sure to have an extra flashlight, food, and water in their car in case of an emergency.

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Follow the Michigan Department of Transportation on Twitter for the latest closures in Southwest and West Michigan.

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.

Some West Michigan schools, including Grand Rapids Public Schools and Kalamazoo Public Schools, have already announced they will be closed on Friday. Check the closings and delays page to see if your school is closed.

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.