Roads treacherous but outages slim across Missouri

Thursday, February 21, 2008 | 4:39 p.m. CST; updated 8:18 a.m. CDT, Thursday, July 17, 2008

ST. LOUIS — Another winter storm blew into Missouri on Thursday, shutting down schools, causing accidents and creating commuter headaches.

Like a winter storm on Feb. 11, this one brought ice and sleet, and lots of it. Many regions reported a mix of ice, sleet and snow, though by mid-afternoon, only a handful of scattered power outages were reported. That was a far cry from last week’s ice storm that left thousands without electricity — some for several days — in southern Missouri.

While the power grid was OK, the roads weren’t. Hundreds of accidents were blamed on the weather, though most were fender-benders or cars sliding off the road. Even the interstates were largely covered in some form of mess as plows and salt trucks struggled to fight off the icy mix.

With forecasters calling for additional waves of more freezing precipitation through early Friday, crews from the Missouri Department of Transportation were bracing for a very long couple of days.

“It is not good — we are advising everyone to stay at home and off the roads,” Briggs said. “We’re going to be out 24-7 all through this situation, but it’s going to be a big chore for us.”

The winter storm hit first in southwest Missouri and moved quickly. The National Weather Service issued an ice storm warning for parts of southern Missouri and a winter storm warning for much of central and eastern Missouri.

By the time the storm moves out, the weather service is predicting a half-inch of ice and sleet mix in much of southern and central Missouri; the St. Louis area is expected to get a couple of inches of a snow and sleet mix, along with about a quarter of an inch of ice; most of northern Missouri should get 2 to 4 inches of a mix of sleet and snow; far northwest Missouri may be spared completely.

Snow is the least of the worries, weather watchers said. More concerning is the so-called black ice — clear frozen precipitation that gives drivers the false impression that roads are clear.

“You’d rather just have snow,” said Mark Britt, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service office in St. Charles County, near St. Louis. The road crews "seem to be able to handle that better. The ice and sleet become very dangerous for travel.”

That was evident Thursday. Capt. Tim Hull of the Missouri State Highway Patrol’s office in Jefferson City said several accidents were blamed on slick roads. No fatalities were reported. The only serious injury occurred about 1 a.m. near Nevada in southwest Missouri when a driver lost control on an icy road and overturned.

“A lot of slide-offs,” Hull said. “When you get the ice on the bottom and the sleet on top of that, it’s like little marbles that you’re driving on — very treacherous.”

The weather also was problematic for air passengers. In St. Louis, about 100 flights bound for Lambert Airport were canceled, as were about 80 departures. Several flights were canceled at Kansas City International Airport.

The morning rush hour commute was a nightmare in St. Louis and Springfield. Interstates 64, 70 and 270 in St. Louis were at a virtual standstill much of the morning. The Highway Patrol said a wave of ice hit just as Springfield drivers were heading to work, resulting in numerous fender-benders.

Though AmerenUE reported only 58 outages by mid-afternoon, the utility was putting crews on alert and activated an emergency operations center to bring in extra help if needed. The company said it has equipped its storm trailers including one in southeast Missouri where the storm is predicted to be heading.

On Feb. 11, a winter storm brought up to 1 inch of ice and 2 inches of sleet to parts of southern Missouri. Some utility customers were without power for nearly a week, prompting Gov. Matt Blunt to send the Missouri National Guard to go door-to-door and make sure residents were OK.

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