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Threat of refreezing looms as Columbia roads remain treacherous

Saturday, February 1, 2014 | 7:18 p.m. CST; updated 9:10 p.m. CST, Saturday, February 1, 2014
Freezing rain covered Columbia sidewalks and roads in sheets of ice overnight. City crews were working to clear the roads, but only 10 percent of residential streets had been treated and plowed by Saturday evening, according to a Public Works Department Facebook post.

COLUMBIA — The sides of Columbia’s roads were littered with vacant cars Saturday morning. In neighborhoods such as Log Hill Run, commuters stared in disbelief at the blanket of ice on their windshields and grasped at the handles of their car doors to keep from slipping.

The layer of ice was the result of freezing rain that started Friday night and left up to a quarter-inch of ice across central Missouri, said Karl Sieczynski, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service in St. Louis.

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While the morning commuters struggled to stay upright on the sidewalks, city crews worked around the clock to try to clear priority routes in Columbia. Columbia Public Works Department crews began treating first- and second-priority routes at 5:30 p.m. Friday, said Teresa White, a marketing specialist for the department.

By Saturday evening, all of Columbia's priority streets had been cleared of ice and had been made passable, according to a Public Works Department notice. But a majority of the city's residential streets were still covered in a sheer layer of ice, and only about 10 percent of these streets had been cleared and plowed by 5 p.m. Saturday.

Even with the continuous effort of treating and re-treating roads, about 100 accidents were reported in the span of two hours Friday night, according to a Public Safety Joint Communications news release. At least 33 injury accidents were reported Friday, and accidents continued to be reported through Saturday.

Tiger Towing owner David DeBates said mostof the accidents his company responded to involved sliding into parked cars or misjudging the roadway and sliding into a curb.

The surge in requests was so large that Tiger Towing worked through the night with a lull only through 1 to 4 a.m., DeBates said. As commuters tried to brave the ice Saturday morning, calls to the towing company increased.

"Since this morning, it’s just been crazy, more busy this morning than yesterday," DeBates said.

Road conditions were so bad that many tow trucks were unable to respond to certain calls, as the trucks struggled to get around Columbia. Monday will be busy as well, as more people try to navigate icy roads for the workweek, DeBates said.

"In some places, 5 miles per hour is the highest speed they can go and they’re still sliding off the road," said Suzanne Fred of Public Safety Joint Communications. "Walking is even treacherous right now."

Although road crews pre-treated streets Thursday to combat the winter storm, Randy Aulbur of the Missouri Department of Transportation said rains can thwart such preparatory measures.

"We take steps to pre-treat the roads to prevent freezing, but the rain flushes those chemicals out," Aulbur said. "That's when it's tricky — when the chemicals get flushed away and we have to go back."

Such icy conditions have been reported statewide. The weather has caused accidents throughout Missouri. Aulbur said that many cars had been driven into the median or roadside on Interstate 70. MoDOT has an online travel map highlighting road closings and conditions across the state.

The Columbia Regional Airport has deployed maintenance crews to keep runways clear. For information about delays and the status of scheduled arrivals and departure, visit FlyMidMo.com.

Although city crews turned their attention to residential streets, the threat of priority streets refreezing late Saturday and early Sunday could slow the city's efforts to clear neighborhoods, the Public Works Department said. The crews were starting with residential streets in central Columbia and radiating out from there.

The city has an online status map with road conditions, and the most up-to-date information about the efforts to improve the streets will be posted at CoMoSnow.com.

Although the Public Works Department expected crews to work until they have serviced all neighborhoods, forecasts of a Tuesday snowstorm might keep them on the streets throughout the week. As of Saturday evening, AccuWeather.com was predicting that Columbia could see 4 to 8 inches of snow Tuesday.

John Carney of the weather service said that it was too early to predict how much snow the area would receive Tuesday.

"We’re trying to work on accumulations on that stuff right now, but we are expecting a snowstorm," he said.

Supervising editor is Edward Hart


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