UPDATE: First snow in Columbia causes slippery road conditions

Wednesday, December 7, 2011 | 12:34 p.m. CST; updated 8:58 p.m. CST, Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Columbia was hit with the first snowfall of the season Tuesday, surprising residents on their morning commute.

This year's first snowfall seems to have caused more accidents than the previous years, Sgt. Paul Reinsch of the Missouri State Highway Patrol said.

Reinsch attributed the large number of accidents to the timing and surprise of the snowfall. The busiest time for the highway patrol was between 5 and 8 a.m., during the morning rush hour.

The primary problem was not only that it was the first snow, but also that the snow was worse in some areas, and people weren't prepared when they came across an icy area, Reinsch said.

"You can be driving, and (the road) is just wet, but then there's a slick spot, and you're going faster than you normally would," Reinsch said. "People get in trouble before they realize it."

The 1.3 inches of snow and ice jammed traffic on major roadways and sent emergency vehicles to more than 40 injury accidents before noon.

Reinsch said there were about four to five times more accidents in the Troop F area if non-injury accidents are included. Troop F covers 13 counties in mid-Missouri.

An advisory from the Missouri Department of Transportation attributed the treacherous conditions to a combination of light snow and freezing mist.

Anthony Lupo, MU professor of atmospheric science, described the conditions this way:

"The ground has been very warm, while the air is quite cold. The first snow that fell melted, then froze, causing quite a stir this morning.

"Once we cool the ground down, this won't be a big issue."

Columbia police received 199 calls related to accidents in Boone County between midnight and 1:30 p.m., according to a department press release.

Emergency personnel responded to 112 of those accidents, which resulted in 13 injuries but no fatalities.

The emergency room at Boone Hospital Center treated 15 snow-related injuries Tuesday morning, according to media relations specialist Jacob Luecke. More serious injuries were sent to University Hospital, he said.

At University Hospital, another 15 people were treated for injuries attributed to the weather, said Matt Splett, media coordinator for MU Health Care said.

The city was expecting only traces of snow, said Jill Stedem, public information specialist with Columbia Public Works Department. She attributed the slick conditions to early-morning snow turning to ice after travel became heavy on the roads.

MoDOT dispatched 230 trucks in 18 central Missouri counties beginning at midnight, according to Assistant District Maintenance Engineer Jason Shafer.

Boone County Fire Protection Public Information Officer Gale Blomenkamp called the morning "very busy" but said it was typical for the first snow day.

Most drivers were not prepared for how slick the roads were going to be, he said. 

"Ice is more slick when it's 31 degrees than when it's zero," Blomenkamp said.

Reinsch said that normally the highway patrol issues a public service announcement reminding people to leave early and plan out their drive, but he never heard that snow was forecasted for Tuesday.

Students were delayed on bus routes because of road conditions and collisions. There were nine collision-related accidents in which vehicles struck buses, Columbia Public Schools spokeswoman Michelle Baumstark said. In only one case, where a car slid into the front of a bus, was a student taken to the hospital; the injuries were not serious, Baumstark said.

There are 212 bus routes per day, she said.

John Berghager, owner of I-70 Towing, called it an abnormal morning for business.

"We couldn't keep up with what we had going on," he said.

Berghager said the towing company handled at least 43 calls before 2 p.m. Tuesday.

"It seems a little excessive for how little snow we got."

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