COLUMBIA — The winter storm Columbia residents have been anticipating the past few days was bearing down on central Missouri on Monday evening and was expected to bring rain and sleet before dumping up to a foot of new snow by Tuesday night.
The latest forecast from the National Weather Service late Monday afternoon indicated rain and sleet were likely to begin before 8 p.m. and would change to snow after 10 p.m. Temperatures were forecast to drop to 30 degrees, and the storm was expected to bring wind gusts as high as 30 mph.
Overnight accumulations of sleet and snow were forecast at 4 to 6 inches. Tuesday was expected to bring another 2 to 4 inches, and light snow was expected to continue through 7 p.m. Tuesday, bringing total accumulations to nearly a foot.
The storm, which was sweeping across Missouri after also hitting the Texas Panhandle, Oklahoma and Kansas, was expected to bring the heaviest snowfall to western Missouri, where accumulations of up to 15 inches were possible from the southern part of the metro Kansas City area to Pettis County.
Even before the storm hit, a rash of closings and cancellations were announced. Columbia Public Schools, Stephens and Columbia colleges and MU were among those announcing they would be closed on Tuesday.
The storm comes on the heels of last week’s snowfall, which brought more than 10 inches of snow to the city. Columbia, Boone County and Missouri Department of Transportation road crews used the literal calm before the storm Monday to continue clearing roads and to perform regular maintenance on their snow plows and trucks, which had been running nearly nonstop for four days.
Meanwhile, hardware stores struggled to keep pace with the demand for snow shovels, rock salt and de-icer. And private snow-removal companies braced for another series of long but lucrative days clearing snow from private drives and parking lots.
Chet Dunn, maintenance operations manager for the Boone County Public Works Department, said 48 road maintenance employees have been working 12-hour shifts day and night since the earlier storm and from Thursday to Monday had logged about 1,000 hours of overtime.
Steven Sapp, spokesman for the Columbia Public Works Department, was unavailable for comment Monday, but the department regularly updated its Facebook page to detail preparations for the storm and anticipated changes to city services.
The state transportation department was transferring road crews and equipment from around the state to central and northern areas of Missouri. Forty-three workers from the southwest, northwest and St. Louis areas were moved into the Kansas City area. Another 58 from the southeast district and St. Louis were moved toward Hannibal and Macon. Crews from Salem, Steelville and Rolla were dispatched to Cole and Boone counties.
"I think we've got everybody moved we possibly can," said Elizabeth Wright, state maintenance engineer for the department.
State crews were busy Monday knocking the tops off existing snow piles and moving them back off the roads so they could gain more room to plow the new snow.
Mac's Lawn Service owner William McBride, whose company offers snow removal in winter, said he was operating a snow plow by 10 a.m. Thursday and worked continuously until 2 a.m. Friday. The work continued at that pace for the next three days.
Warmer weather on Saturday and Sunday caused the snow to melt a bit and offered a bit of a reprieve and time to catch up. McBride said he was confident he and his crew would be prepared for Round 2 of Columbia's bout with late winter snowfall.
“You better believe it,” he said. “Out there, that’s where I’ll be. I’ve got my people and equipment all lined up.”
Hardware stores across Columbia reported they were trying to stock up on salt, shovels and sleds after being raided by consumers last week. The merchandise left nearly as quickly as it arrived, though.
The Westlake ACE Hardware store at 1910 W. Worley St. received a shipment of 1,600 snow shovels at 12:15 p.m. Monday and was down to 200 by 3:45 p.m. Some of the shovels were redirected to other Westlake stores in the area.
“As fast as we can put them on the shelf they’re going out — or not making it to the shelf to begin with,” Westlake employee Cory Gillispie said. A fresh shipment was scheduled to arrive Thursday.
Cashier Melissa Phillips at Orscheln Farm and Home, 3300 Paris Road, said the store was out of shovels, de-icer, salt and sleds. Phillips said it ran out of shovels the day after last week's snow struck.
Menards at 3340 Vandiver Drive had a similar story. It received a fresh shipment of a few hundred shovels at 1:30 p.m. Monday, and they were gone by 4 p.m.
The storm has been a challenge for meteorologists at the National Weather Service, who early Monday said "thermal shenanigans" were confounding their attempts to nail down a more precise forecast.
Columbia early in the day was forecast to receive anywhere from 3 inches to 10 inches of snow. As the day progressed, the weather service said a model showing the storm shifting to the south would move the line of heavy snow further to the east.
Julie Phillipson, a meteorologist at the weather service office in St. Louis, said the forecast was based on a "pretty tight gradient" between areas of heavier and lighter snow. The snow was expected to taper off as the storm moved east.
"We look at the vertical profile in the atmosphere," Phillipson said. "A few feet difference is the change between sleet or snow or freezing rain or cold rain. (That) makes or breaks the accumulation forecast."
Much of western, northern and central Missouri were included in the winter storm warning, which began at 6 p.m. Monday and was scheduled to continue through 6 p.m. Tuesday.
Supervising editor is Scott Swafford.