Bitter chill keeps Missouri under snow blanket

Thursday, February 3, 2011 | 7:33 a.m. CST; updated 11:13 a.m. CST, Thursday, February 3, 2011

ST. LOUIS — Missouri was sinking Thursday to the lowest temperatures of the season even as natural drifts and man-made mountains of snow from a history-making storm grew taller, ensuring several more days of conditions irritating at best and perilous at worst.

The exit of the storm that began with freezing rain Monday and crescendoed with blizzard conditions late Tuesday merely gave way to frigid air expected to bottom out Thursday in subzero temperatures everywhere but southeastern Missouri.

That outlook prompted MU to cancel classes for the third straight day in Columbia, where crews continue struggling against 18 inches of snow. And there was scant relief in sight: A weekend warmup to 34 degrees was expected to occur under cloudy skies, with no help from the sun in melting the snow.

"And that leads to the next arctic cold front Sunday night, with temperatures dropping again below seasonal averages," George Amis, observing program leader at the National Weather Service in Pleasant Hill, said late Wednesday.

Cities such as Sedalia, with 21 inches of snow, and Joplin, with 18, confronted the problem of where to put all the snow being plowed, pushed and shoveled off streets and sidewalks. One solution: ever-higher snowbanks of sizes rarely seen in Missouri.

"The drifts in yards and fields, there won't be a whole lot of melting going on, even if it does warm up a bit," Amis said. "But those man-made snow piles in shopping centers and parking lots — those types of things will stay around a lot longer than what's in your yard."

The storm was part of a system more than 2,000 miles long that barreled through the nation's midsection on its way to the Northeast, leaving vast swaths from Chicago to New York paralyzed by snow and ice, stranding hundreds of motorists and shuttering airports and schools.

Gov. Jay Nixon asked the federal government Wednesday for an emergency declaration for all of Missouri's 114 counties to help with the costs of responding to the snowstorm. The declaration would let the state and local governments seek reimbursement for some costs of protecting public health and safety since Monday.

"This week's blizzard and severe storm hit with a fury, depositing up to 21 inches of snow, forcing the closure of almost the entire length of Interstate 70 and a significant portion of Interstate 44, and burdening local jurisdictions and the state with tremendous response costs," Nixon said.

Nixon might have been off a bit in describing total snowfalls. The National Weather Service put the highest amounts at 25 inches in the north-central Missouri town of Brunswick, and 23 inches each at Brookfield and Warrensburg — breaking a Warrensburg record for a single snow event of 20 inches, set in February 1938.

Residents of the Show-Me State were earning kudos Wednesday for their common sense, kindness, even heroism during the storm. Missouri State Highway Patrol officials said accidents were few largely because people stayed off the roads. Truckers said the few cars they saw were driving slowly and cautiously.

Many people went out of their way to aid stranded motorists, even to help emergency workers. Near Tipton, in central Missouri, Co-Mo Electric Cooperative trucks couldn't get to an outage site because of nearly 2 feet of snow on the road. So farmers used their tractors to clear the road, then pulled the trucks to the outage sites.

"Most of those outages wouldn't have gotten back on Tuesday night without our members' help," said Chuck Tuttle, operations manager for the electric utility.

Six members of the National Guard and three Humvees were sent to Hannibal, where streets were so bad the Humvees were needed to transport local emergency workers to trouble calls.

At least four Missouri newspapers on Tuesday made their online editions available for free to all customers, saying that weather conditions made it too dangerous to deliver print editions. The Columbia Daily Tribune, The Jefferson City News Tribune, The Joplin Globe, The Carthage Press and The Sedalia Democrat posted notes on their websites to print edition readers explaining the change.

Other roads around the state remained snow-packed and unplowed as crews focused on the interstates and major highways. Duran said many highways remain buried in more than 2 feet of snow and drifts, and it may be days before they are passable.

Southwest, central and northeast Missouri were particularly hard hit. In Jefferson City, with the legislature adjourned until next week, as many as 50 lawmakers unable to get home spent the night in the Capitol building. Some had families join them in the Capitol, where they watched movies and played games, said state Rep. Ellen Brandom, R-Sikeston.

"It'll certainly be a night to remember," Brandom said.

Kansas City got about 9 inches of snow, but few significant problems were reported.

On the other side of the state, St. Louis was on the outer edge of the storm. While totals in the St. Louis metro area ranged from a foot of snow to the north and nothing to the south, the city itself officially had 3 inches of precipitation — most of it sleet.

Reporters David A. Lieb, Wes Duplantier and Chris Blank in Jefferson City, Maria Fisher and Margaret Stafford in Kansas City and Alan Scher Zagier in Columbia contributed to this report.


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