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Rain and ice cover Columbia; hazardous road conditions expected

Saturday, December 21, 2013 | 10:10 p.m. CST; updated 9:33 p.m. CST, Sunday, December 22, 2013
Freezing rain Saturday leaves much of Columbia covered in ice.

UPDATE: This story has been updated with evening road conditions.

COLUMBIA — A steady drizzle of rain and sleet on Saturday covered cars and trees throughout Columbia in a thin layer of ice, but the winter storm had yet to cause significant problems for drivers.

Officials were concerned, however, that continued freezing rain and a small layer of snow could pose a risk to drivers Saturday evening into Sunday morning.

Between Friday night and noon Saturday, Columbia received approximately a quarter-inch of freezing rain, said Wes Browning, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in St. Louis.

But through Saturday afternoon, the storm had caused few issues in Columbia, authorities said. 

The Columbia Public Works Department said in a news release Saturday evening that roads were mostly wet as of 5 p.m. with some patchy ice and that 97 percent of the city's streets had been treated as of 5:30. According to the release, Public Works crews had been treating roads in Columbia since 2 a.m. Saturday.

Latisha Stroer, Columbia Police Department public information officer, said in a text message that roads seemed to be wet but not slippery Saturday afternoon. Stroer also said she had not been told that there were significant traffic issues caused by the weather.

In surrounding areas, the weather caused several crashes, most of them occurring early Saturday morning, said Sgt. Mike Halford of the Missouri State Highway Patrol's Troop F.

One tractor-trailer in Boone County jackknifed, and there were several smaller accidents attributed to the weather, Halford said.

By Saturday morning, the Public Works Department had announced that because of the possibility of snow falling on top of ice, the department would treat the storm as a 4-inch snow event.

City crews were out Saturday, treating residential streets with salt and monitoring priority routes.

As of Saturday afternoon, Halford said, the roads in Troop F's patrol area were clear thanks to the fact that temperatures were above freezing.

But looking ahead to Saturday night and Sunday morning, officials expressed concern about the possibility that water on the streets would freeze.  

"Later tonight, dropping temperatures will become a concern," Halford said.

Temperatures in Columbia were expected to drop from a high of 32 degrees on Saturday afternoon to approximately 28 degrees by Sunday morning, according to the weather service.

Browning said the biggest concern for Columbia was freezing rain, with more expected on Saturday afternoon until about 9 p.m.

Freezing rain is a hazard because untreated road surfaces, especially bridges and overpasses, can become extremely slick and hazardous, according to the weather service's storm warning.

Additionally, the ice could be covered in light snow. The weather service warns that mid-Missouri could see up to 3 inches of snow starting after midnight Saturday until about 6 a.m. Sunday, when the winter storm warning expires. 

However, Columbia isn't expected to see that much snow accumulation.

"Columbia looks like it will be in the low end of that," Browning said, adding that areas north of Columbia would likely see more snow. Browning said that Columbia would probably see between a half-inch to 1 inch of snow.

Halford, of the Missouri State Highway Patrol, urged motorists not to go out in inclement winter weather.

"There’s no safe way to drive on ice," Halford said.

If drivers must go out, Halford said, they should have emergency items such as salt for melting ice, shovel and a charged cellphone to call for help.

This storm system comes during one of the busiest travel weekends of the year, according to Associated Press reports. And this year's holiday travel season will be busier than last year's by almost a half-million travelers, according to a AAA news release Tuesday. AAA estimates that 94.5 million Americans will travel more than 50 miles this holiday season.

Conditions across the state will vary. Most snow will fall in the northern parts of the state, Browning said. 

According to the weather service, by Sunday morning, Kansas City could see ice and as much as 5 inches of snow, with an overnight low near 23 degrees. St Louis will see rain with occasional snow flurries. Low temperatures in St. Louis will hover around 32 degrees and was under a freezing rain warning, the weather service said.

For the most up-to-date information about road conditions in Columbia, visit CoMosnow.com. For information about traveling in the state, see the Missouri Department of Transportation's online road condition map.


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