CHAMPAIGN (AP) — A snowstorm that swept across central Illinois buried Springfield with a record 18 1/2 inches and blanketed much of the rest of region with a foot of wet, heavy snow. Numerous schools closed for the day and highways were in many places were slick with snow and ice.
In Springfield, authorities declared a snow emergency after snow fell at a rate of up to 2 inches an hour and obliterated a record that's stood for more than six decades. The old record for a March 24 was in 1947 when the area got 2.4 inches, said Dan Smith, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Lincoln.
The storm packed thunder in areas around Decatur, south of Champaign and Effingham, he said, unloading torrents of snow just like the drenching rain of a summer thunderstorm.
"The snowfall rate is enhanced quite a bit," Smith said. "I mean, you're talking maybe 1 to 2 inches per hour or less than an hour's time. So, it can pile up pretty fast."
The sheer volume of snow caught some off guard.
"We just assumed it was a typical prediction that wouldn't necessarily come true," said Wayne Cerne of Downers Grove, who along with his wife and three children stopped in the state's capital Monday on their way to Hannibal, Mo. "We don't have our snow boots — we have to be careful, but we'll survive."
Other high snow totals were recorded in Pana, in southeast Christian County, which got 16 inches. Taylorville got 13.7 inches, and Decatur recorded 12 inches. The smallest amount was in Hopewell, in Marshall County, which reported 1.8 inches of snow. Only the Chicago area and far-southern Illinois were spared, with little or no snow accumulating.
Illinois State Police Sgt. Jose DeJesus said no fatalities or serious injuries had been reported by midday Monday on state highways, but numerous vehicles were reported off roads. Traffic on Interstate 57 near Champaign was at a near standstill.
Along Interstate 74 in LeRoy, few cars were moving and commercial truck drivers used the snow packing the road as a cue to take some downtime and refuel, said Ron Kremer, general manager at Love's Travel Stop. LeRoy is about 15 miles southeast of Bloomington and had close to a foot of snow on the ground Monday morning.
"For us, it means we're slower on the gasoline side but heavier on the diesel, the commercial side, because the truckers want to get off the roads," said Kremer, who said he drove in from St. Louis early Monday, a normally two-and-a-half-hour drive that this time took more than four hours.
Classes were cancelled at numerous public schools around the state, from Belleville in the Metro East to Champaign and Urbana.
Many universities called off classes, too, including Illinois State University in Normal, the University of Southern Illinois-Edwardsville's three campuses and the University of Illinois campuses in both Urbana-Champaign and Springfield. In Urbana-Champaign, students had expected to head back to school after a week of spring break. But Monday was just another work day for many university employees.
"Our crews are busy clearing roads and sidewalks," said Robin Kaler, spokeswoman for the University of Illinois. "We're feeding students and making sure that research continues uninterrupted."
The storm dropped unusually wet snow that could help recharge soil across Illinois after last year's drought, said Brian Fuchs, a climatologist with the National Drought Mitigation Center.
In a typical Midwest snowstorm, 15 inches of snow equals about an inch of water, he said. This time, "I think we're talking probably 7 or 8 inches is going to give you an inch of water."
But, while Fuchs said this storm will certainly do some good in areas that have suffered through drought over the past year, it's too early to say how much. In areas further north where the ground is still frozen, much of that moisture could end up running off, he said.
"We know we have this snow sitting here, we know there's a lot of water in it," Fuchs said. "But we want to see if there's a response as that starts melting."
The storm also left some without power. Ameren Illinois' website reported more than a thousand scattered customers lost electricity. The largest concentration was about 1,400 in the Collinsville area.
With temperatures forecast to reach 40 degrees by Wednesday and climb as high as 55 degrees by Friday, the snow won't stick long. In some areas with lighter snow, clearing was already under way Monday.
"Last night it was really snowing bad," said Jane Patel, a front-desk worker at the EconoLodge motel in Marion in south-central Illinois. She said the storm forced a handful of travelers to book rooms they hadn't planned on Sunday night. "Right now, I see clear ground; it's melting everything."
Associated Press writers Regina Garcia Cano in Springfield, and Jason Keyser in Chicago contributed to this report.