CHARLESTON -- The Coles County Sheriff's Office is urging motorists to drive cautiously as winter precipitation and frigid temperatures create slick road conditions.

Lt. Tyler Heleine, who oversees the Sheriff's Office patrol division, said Illinois Department of Transportation and local crews have been working hard since late Thursday night to clear ice and snow from roadways, but slick conditions remain in some areas. The icy weather conditions early Friday morning prompted Charleston, Mattoon and other area school districts to cancel classes for the day.

Heleine said Illinois Route 16 between Charleston and Mattoon was mostly clear by mid-day Friday after being nearly completely covered by snow at 8 a.m. However, he said Route 16 between Charleston and Ashmore was still covered in some places, particularly in the eastbound lane, and winter driving conditions are often slick on the hills near the Embarras River bridge there.

The patrol lieutenant said he is also concerned about driving conditions on side roads and streets, which do not get cleared off as quickly by snow plows as the main roadways.

"Give yourself plenty of time. Leave early. Expect to drive slow," Heleine said. He added that motorists should make sure that their windows are defrosted, that they have plenty of fuel, and have first aid supplies when they hit the road. He said motorists should not drive if they can avoid it during bad winter weather, which will ensure their safety and help keep the roadways free for snowplow crows.

Despite bad road conditions on Friday, Heleine said the Sheriff's Office had received no reports of accidents by mid-day and had only encountered one vehicle slide off. He said Coles County had received its first blast of icy winter weather before Friday, so local drivers seem to be more prepared now and exercising more caution.

Cameron Craig, climatologist with the Eastern Illinois University weather center, said sleet fell for nearly 3 hours overnight Thursday followed by approximately 1 inch of snowfall. He said snow that is compacted by vehicles turns to ice, so this added to the slick road conditions caused by the sleet.

Speaking Friday afternoon, Craig said his big concern at that time was a forecast for temperatures to drop to 15 degrees overnight Friday. He said this will create more icy conditions on local roadways.

The sleet and snowfall overnight Thursday was produced by a long cold front that passed through the region, Craig said. He added that a high pressure system over the weekend is projected to produce highs in the 20s and lows in the single digits on Saturday and Sunday, but only about an inch of snowfall.

Craig said the Charleston area has only received 3.8 inches of snowfall so far this winter, well behind the 30-year average of 19 inches of snowfall. He said the Charleston area has not had a "true" winter yet in terms of snowfall, but has experienced a "true" winter in terms of frigid temperatures.

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