ST. LOUIS — Potentially the worst winter storm to hit Missouri in decades delivered freezing rain and more than a foot of snow Tuesday, creating whiteout conditions so severe that state officials closed the entire 252-mile stretch of Interstate 70 linking Kansas City and St. Louis.
Joplin and other parts of southwest Missouri had a foot-and-a-half of snow. Forecasters said parts of southwest, central and northern Missouri could get more than 2 feet by the time it ends Wednesday. The storm was so bad in Polk County that emergency officials requested help from the National Guard because the county didn't have enough vehicles to get elderly residents and shut-ins to shelter if power would go out.
Get the latest information on road conditions around the state at MoDOT's Traveler Information Map.
For more local information, check the Boone County road conditions list.
By late afternoon, the Missouri Department of Transportation closed I-70, the main artery linking the state's two largest cities, because of fears motorists would be stranded due to poor visibility. MoDOT officials said it was the first time the highway had been closed entirely because of winter weather.
Other highways also were shut down, including I-44 from Springfield to the border with Oklahoma, where the highway's closing earlier in the day was causing trucks and other vehicles to back up and block exit ramps.
Missourians for days have been bracing for the storm, and it was living up the hype. MoDOT and the Missouri State Highway Patrol urged people to stay home unless it was absolutely necessary to go out.
People generally heeded the advice. Accidents were relatively few given the conditions, largely because few cars were on the roads, according to the Missouri State Highway Patrol.
"It's just coming down like crazy," said Kristi Strait, who was working at Clinton Discount Building Materials. "We have snow drifts out there, and the roads are just pure white. There's no traffic. Nothing. It's pretty dead."
The Highway Patrol said one of its own vehicles was involved in the only fatal accident it handled Tuesday. Karen Chambers, 55, of Licking, was killed around 5:20 a.m. when she lost control of her SUV on snow-covered U.S. 63 south of Rolla and struck a patrol cruiser head-on. The patrol officer was taken to a hospital with what were described as moderate injuries.
Many communities all but shut down. In Columbia, MU canceled classes Tuesday because of weather for just the third time in 20 years, and did the same for Wednesday.
Missouri lawmakers cut their week short because of the storm. The full House was not scheduled to meet in a formal session until next week, though a few House committees still planned hearings.
Normally bustling downtown streets near the state Capitol were quiet, too. Many stores were closed, with signs on the windows blaming the weather.
Others weren't going to let a predicted couple of feet of snow keep them from work. The bakery Chez Monet in downtown Jefferson City was open, providing hot oatmeal for chilled customers.
Owner Joan Fairfax made it to work OK. She wasn't sure about the ride home as weather worsened, but said she could walk if necessary.
"I have never missed a day of work because of weather in 20 years," said Fairfax, 54.
The St. Louis area got a glazing of freezing rain, then sleet, before the snow finally arrived around noon. The weather forced postponement of the NHL's Colorado Avalanche-St. Louis Blues game in St. Louis. No makeup date was immediately set.
Eastern Missouri's biggest concern was ice. Areas south and southwest of St. Louis were expected to get less snow but up to an inch of ice, raising concerns of widespread outages like those in November 2006 that left a half-million AmerenUE customers without power, some for more than a week.
Chip Webb, Ameren's superintendent of reliability support services, said the utility was doing everything it can to avoid a repeat performance. He said that over the past four years the company has significantly increased efforts to trim trees near power lines, has put more power lines underground and inspected and replaced hundreds of aging poles.
Ameren also has been proactive in anticipation of this storm, with about 1,100 linemen on standby, some borrowed from companies in other states. Six trailers stocked with wire, replacement lines and other goods have been dispatched to possible trouble spots.
Webb said outages were almost a certainty given the ice and wind gusts expected to reach 40 mph.
"There is ice on the lines," and it could be there for days, Webb said.
Extreme cold was following the snow, with overnight lows expected to be below zero Wednesday night. Warming centers opened around the state. St. Louis officials were calling needy residents to make sure they were warm and adding beds at shelters for the homeless.
Airports were all but shut down. Nearly 420 arriving and departing flights were canceled at Lambert Airport in St. Louis, though it remained open. Kansas City International also was open, but most flights were canceled.
At KCI, Tiffany Montes of Wichita, Kan., made it back from San Francisco after many delays, but she figured she'd spend most of the day at the airport since her husband couldn't get to Kansas City to pick her up. She has relatives in the city, but they were struggling to get there, too.
Those who had to drive mostly wished they hadn't. Truck driver David Peck, 51, left Kansas City at 4:30 a.m. Tuesday to deliver fresh produce and other food products to restaurants in Marshall, Boonville, Columbia and Jefferson City. By midmorning, as he waited outside a Chinese restaurant in Columbia whose owners were nowhere to be seen, he was imploring his boss on the other end of the phone to shut down the route.
"By the time I got to Columbia, all hell broke loose," he said. "I've already fell once, right on my back."
Not everyone was dreading the storm. Kids across Missouri got another snow day, and the rest of the week was very much in doubt.
In Columbia, Nathan Byrum was heading to work when he got a call and was told to go home, where his twin 6-year-old boys and 4-year-old daughter had been awake since 6 a.m., anticipating the snow.
"Usually we have to drag them out of bed," he said.