Snow freezes city in place

Tuesday, February 1, 2011 | 8:23 p.m. CST; updated 10:34 a.m. CST, Wednesday, February 2, 2011

COLUMBIA — A blizzard shut down the city Tuesday.

The courthouse canceled its dockets; schools, banks and businesses were closed; and few ventured out of their homes.

All day, snow sliced the air as winds gusted above 35 mph. Relentlessly, it piled up into drifts, covering cars and caking buildings.

Snowplows would clear a road multiple times only to have to clear it again. 

Poor visibility led the Missouri Department of Transportation to first close the Boone County stretch of Interstate 70 mid-afternoon and then I-70 statewide and I-44 west of Springfield in the early evening.

At 4 p.m. the blizzard was into its sixth hour, with no end — or much of anything but snow — in sight. The stinging flakes and sleet blew against cheeks and into eyes, making it almost impossible to see. Brave pedestrians had to march like soldiers to wade through the drifts. 

At 4:30, the National Weather Service extended its blizzard warning to noon on Wednesday with winds gusting to 40 mph until nightfall.

As of 5:50 p.m. the National Weather Service reported 17 inches of snow had fallen today at Columbia Regional Airport. If Columbia reaches 20 inches before 24 hours are up, it will set a new record.

In multiple parts of the city, employees bunked in their offices overnight to ensure they were on hand when needed.

Linemen and office personnel at Boone Electric Cooperative slept in cots for the second night in a row. At least six workers at Plaza 900 dining hall on the MU campus camped out in the facility to make sure students got breakfast in the morning.

Bess Kretsinger and several other employees at Ragtag Cinema made a slumber party of it. They closed the theater, watched movies and ate leftovers, planning to rise early to open the bakery.

Starting with freezing rain Monday afternoon, the storm system could have Columbia in its icy grip for 48 hours or more.

Like a crystalline snowflake, the city remains frozen. Forced indoors, residents have had a rare chance to slow down and share their experiences.

But at some point, the wind should stop, the snow will settle, and the work of digging out will begin.

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