GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Driving conditions deteriorated across West Michigan Wednesday as a winter storm moved through the region, bringing freezing rain, sleet and snow.
Calhoun and Kent counties advised against driving unless it was necessary. Intermittent highway closures became more frequent as they day wore on. News 8 crews along US-131 saw a jackknifed semi-truck near 124th Avenue and the slide-offs south of Plainwell.
The Michigan State Police post in Walker tweeted shortly before 2 p.m. that snow and sleet had switched to freezing rain and it was starting to see more reports of crashes.
“Please slow down, drive safely, and buckle up!” it tweeted.
Kent County Road Commission Deputy Managing Director of Operations Jerry Byrne said crews started laying down a mix of sand and salt around 9 a.m. and continued it through the day “to stay in front of the freezing rain possibility.”
“Something we would not do for a typical snowstorm,” Byrne said. “But with a freezing rain event, we will do everything possible to keep the road from getting slippery.”
He said that had been effective as of the early afternoon but it would be less helpful as freezing rain fell and more ice developed. He was also waiting for winds to pick up and start bringing down tree limbs.
One hundred plow truck drivers were on the road in Kent County throughout the day. Forty were coming on shift at 6 p.m. The preliminary plan was to get the daytime drivers home to get some rest before they went back out at 4 a.m.
“We feel comfortable right now, but this storm’s forecasting has changed by the hour,” Byrne said. “And we’ll change our game plan by the hour accordingly.”
He said traffic was light much of the day, with people heeding the warnings to stay home.
Allegan County said it would tackle the main thoroughfares first and then move to more rural areas.
Allegan County Road Commission crews have almost 1,800 miles of road to treat with salt and sand mixtures for 24 townships.
“We actually prefer to put it down on top of any ice buildup again for traction and to melt it down,” said Craig Atwood, the managing director at the Allegan County Road Commission.
Road crews will work into the night. In the morning crews will continue putting down a salt and sand mix.
“We concentrate on our major roads first, our primaries. Those are the ones that typically get the most traffic. So we are making sure we hit those first then they dive off and hit the local roads as needed,” Atwood said.
Crews are prepared with snow chains to keep their trucks on the road to pour the sand and salt mixture. With high winds and ice downed trees, West Michigan saw several power outages Wednesday evening.
“Guys had chainsaws ready to go in case trees started coming down,” Atwood said.
Drivers like Terrence Baldwin know how dangerous the roads can be.
“It’s kind of a little scary, it’s been a few times where we slide a little bit,” his daughter, Lailah Baldwin, said. “It’s scary a little bit.”
Caution is needed when driving in wet icy conditions.
“Just going the speed limit and trying to keep traction to prevent from sliding. So I’m definitely keeping her safe as well as myself to prevent any accidents from happening,” Terrence Baldwin said.
Allegan County Road Commission’s managing director says the less cars driving on the streets, the better, so road crews can get salt and sand down and a lesser chance of car accidents.
Those who must venture out are reminded to turn on their headlights, clear all snow and ice from their vehicles, remove distractions and use caution. The Ottawa County Road Commission advised drivers to watch for ice buildup at intersections, brake well before you enter a corner and give plow trucks plenty of room.
In addition, drivers should make sure to have an extra flashlight, food, and water in their car in case of an emergency.
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.
Nearly every flight out of Gerald R. Ford International Airport was canceled Wednesday. The airport said it was working to make sure the runway would be ready to go for Thursday, but additional cancellations or delays are possible. Passengers can check real-time flight information online.
BUSY MORNING FOR BUSINESSES
Despite the forecast, businesses were still busy, including Kazoopy’s Pizza and Grinders on W. Main Street in Kalamazoo.
“I thought it was going to be slower,” said general manager Dylan Koski. “When we opened up, I went back there and I was like ‘I hope we’re busy,’ because it makes the day go by, you have a better day when you’re running around all day.”
Come 11 a.m., they were running around.
“Our rail filled up,” Koski said. “It was surprising. I was like, you know what, people are getting up, they’re getting their stuff done. What better way to have a cold day than a hot sandwich from Kazoopy’s?”
According to Koski, Wednesday’s lunch rush at the Westwood location stood out with 30% more orders than usual. It was how customers are getting their food that was an even bigger surprise.
“We had a great lunch, but our driver hasn’t taken a single (delivery),” Koski said. “People are… conscious of it. … Myself, if I’m at home during this, I don’t want someone else bringing me my food. I don’t want to put their life in danger or anything.”
“No matter the weather, you honestly don’t know what you’re going to get,” he added. “Unless you look outside and there’s about 6, 12 inches of snow, then we’ll be slow. But on any normal day, it’s a ballpark. You never know. It could be a home run, could be a strike out.”
Koski said the pizzeria was tentatively planning to stay open for the evening.
Grocery stores in Allegan County reported a busy Wednesday, with an influx of people stocking up.
“The essentials of milk especially, bread, meat, and whatnot,” Ron Ginder of Harding’s Family Market in Wayland. “I haven’t noticed anything particularly out of the ordinary that they are buying, just a lot of people are here doing their shopping.”
He did not expect the store to close early, though he noted the plan could change.
—News 8’s Amanda Porter contributed to this report.