GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Drivers are advised to stay home as most of West Michigan is under a blizzard warning until Saturday evening.
In White Pigeon on Friday, a semi-truck driver, a 52-year-old Brooklyn man, was issued a citation for driving too fast for the road conditions after his vehicle crossed the center line of US-131 near Dickson Road, hitting an oncoming passenger vehicle. MSP said that there were minor injuries.
M-57 near Shaner Avenue was closed following a head-on crash involving a semi-truck and a mail carrier vehicle on Friday. It has since reopened. The driver of the postal vehicle was taken to the hospital with serious injuries.
On Friday morning, crews with the Cutlerville Fire Department were sent to northbound US-131 at 84th Street for a rollover crash. The department said in a Facebook post that while on the scene, a passing vehicle crashed into Platform 37. Additional crashes occurred with a total of 12 vehicles and two semi-trucks involved causing crews to close the freeway. No one was hurt.
Eastbound I-94 was closed at mile marker 41 on Friday due to a crash involving nine semi-trucks. It has since reopened. MDP posted a video on Twitter, click here to watch.
Jerry Byrne with the Kent County Road Commission warned drivers who must venture out Friday that the roads are icy.
“The cold temperatures really eliminate the use of salt. Any deicing chemical that was put down is probably making conditions a little worse because it catches the snow, it dilutes and refreezes. So, don’t expect to see much of any deicing chemicals put down today,” said Byrne.
A snowplow was rear-ended by a hit-and-run driver on 28th Street early Friday morning, according to Byrne. There were no reports of injuries.
“We have had more than a close call, already one (snowplow) struck this morning. People need to slow down,” Byrne told News 8 Daybreak Friday morning.
Road conditions are expected to deteriorate throughout the day Friday.
“Visibility is the issue and the cold temperatures. As traffic picks up, the road conditions will deteriorate throughout the day,” said Byrne.
The National Weather Service issued a blizzard warning for West Michigan from 4 p.m. Thursday to 7 p.m. Saturday with some areas in the region receiving more than a foot of snow and wind gusts of 40 mph to 50 mph.
According to the NWS, the worst travel conditions were expected to come Friday when travel became very difficult to impossible due to widespread blowing snow that significantly reduced visibility. Travel is not advised.
Plow drivers say that wind was their greatest challenge. Rich Larkin has been driving a snow plow for 33 years for the city of Kalamazoo.
“The amount of snow we have is not really bad. It’s the blowing that’s bad. To try to plow or even drive,” Larkin said.
The plows spread a mixture of salt and sand because it was too cold for salt to work alone. The addition of the sand gives the roadways some grip for vehicles.
The Kalamazoo County Emergency Operations Center took on the blizzard remotely.
“The Emergency Operations Center itself, having learned virtual lessons from COVID, we are running completely virtually … It’s working really well. We have a Zoom for 72 hours, whatever it takes,” said Spokesperson Andrew Alspach.
Representatives from various agencies around the county communicate using that Zoom to send help where needed. Alspach realizes the timing of the storm, right before Christmas, is challenging. But he encourages people to stay home, stay warm and stay safe.
With temperatures in the single digits and wind chills of negative 14 and lower, Alspach reminded people about exposure to the cold.
“It’s a matter of minutes in this kind of weather, if you have exposed skin, before frostbite can set in. And that’s a big concern,” he said.
Friday evening, plow drivers and emergency management officials were thankful that many people heeded early warnings about the storm and stayed inside. They say that helped make it easier to keep streets safe.
INTERSTATES OF HIGHEST CONCERN
With winds coming out of the northwest and then the due west, several roads in West Michigan will be under significant stress due to falling and blowing snow.
- Drifting could make stretches impassible
- Whiteout conditions may lead to pileups
- Salt will have low efficiency in Arctic temps
- It may take longer than usual for plows to clear area streets
Interstates of concern include US-31 north of Holland, I-96 west of Grand Rapids, US-131 south of Sand Lake, I-196 west of Grand Rapids, US-131 north of Kalamazoo, I-94 west of Kalamazoo and into northwest Indiana.
MSP: RECONSIDER HOLIDAY PLANS, STAY OFF THE ROAD
MSP troopers are warning about the risk of getting stranded on the roads and are telling people to avoid driving during the storm.
“We’re asking you to seriously reconsider your travel plans and stay home where it’s safe,” MSP Lt. DuWayne Robinson said. “If you can’t see but two car lengths in front of you, you have no idea what’s coming at you. Other motorists don’t have any idea what’s coming at them, so it just creates … a blinding effect for everyone out there, which could potentially lead to a crash.”
Those who must 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 emergency supplies in their car.
“We ask that you pack an emergency preparedness kit. This should include a flashlight, a phone charger, water and food, blankets, a first aid kit and jumper cables,” Robinson said. “It is also extremely important to let someone know your destination.”
Robinson said MSP will be proactively conducting sweeps to the look for stranded drivers along major roads.
Michigan State Police advised drivers if they are involved in a crash or their vehicle becomes disabled on the road, they should remain in their vehicles to avoid being hit by other cars. Putting on your lights, staying buckled in your seat and calling 911 are also recommended.
MSP also said that 115 shifts will be covered over the course of the storm 24/7.
Kent County Road Commission said it will be fully staffed with day and night crews throughout the weekend. While the roads are becoming dangerous, it said they’re not planning on pulling crews off the streets at this point.
“What we don’t want to do is pull roads off the road and let this storm get too far ahead of us, where we’re talking about having a lot of roads plugged, where people and emergency services can’t get through. So right now, I do not anticipate pulling the trucks off the road through this event at all,” Kent County Road Commission Deputy Managing Director of Operations Jerry Byrne said.
The Road Commission of Kalamazoo County also said it will bring in its full staff of plow drivers but they expect it to be challenging to keep up.
“We’ve been preparing for the storm over the last couple days. Primarily just preparing equipment, making sure our team is properly trained. Trucks are ready to roll,” Travis Bartholomew with the Road Commission of Kalamazoo County said.
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.
Nick Schirripa, a spokesperson for MDOT’s southwest region, said the department will be working closely with MSP, monitoring conditions and plowing major roads and highways.
He echoed state trooper’s call to stay off the road.
“The fewer cars that are on the road, the easier it is to plow but also the less possibility there is of crashes,” he said. “So that would be helpful but understanding we’re going into a holiday weekend, people are going to travel and so folks just need to remember to really, really reduce their speed.”
“We want people to be safe and get home to their loved ones. It’s Christmas weekend. We want to avoid tragedies where possible,” Robinson said.
— Storm Team 8’s Ellen Bacca and News 8’s Amy Fox contributed to this report.