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UPDATE: Snow pummels Columbia; crews working to clear roads

Tuesday, February 4, 2014 | 7:33 p.m. CST; updated 11:50 a.m. CST, Friday, February 21, 2014
Tow truck operators work to untangle a wreck involving seven semi trucks and a minivan on Interstate 70 that occurred just before noon Tuesday between the Lake of the Woods Exit and U.S. 63 exits. Lt. Bill Fisher of the Columbia Fire Department said multiple people involved in the wreck were taken to University Hospital, but details about the exact number of people injured and the extent of their injuries were not immediately available.

COLUMBIA — While school kids and college students celebrated a day off of school, continuous snow shuttered businesses and created dangerous road conditions Tuesday.

By 4:30 p.m., 5 inches of snow had fallen in Columbia, said Julie Phillipson, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in St. Louis. Up to 8 inches of snow were predicted to accumulate by the end of the day.

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The thick of the storm was expected to taper off around midnight, she said, stopping by daybreak on Wednesday.

Winds of up to 25 miles per hour were likely to continue across the state until Wednesday morning, making travel difficult and posing challenges for crews trying to keep roads clear, according to a news release from the Missouri Department of Transportation.

Meanwhile, more snow was forecasted for Saturday, though it was too early to predict how much was coming, said Jon Carney, a meteorologist with the weather service.

The storm system was created by cold air from the Great Plains colliding with moist air from the Gulf to create the dry, fluffy snow, Carney said.

Accidents

Between midnight and 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, emergency personnel responded to 65 accidents and 17 stalled vehicles in Boone County, said Brian Maydwell, operations manager of joint communications. Many of the responses were related to cars sliding off the road, he said.

Even experienced drivers were in danger on the road. Although Oleksandr Shchavyelyev has driven semi trucks since 1978, he drove his truck into a ditch when he couldn't stop in time to avoid a pile-up on westbound Interstate 70 just before noon Tuesday.

William Hall was driving his flatbed truck when a semi jack-knifed in front of him, careened off the right side of the road and smashed into the guardrail, coming to rest on top of it.

Hall's flatbed crashed into the back end of the semi's trailer. A white minivan then lost control and wrecked as well.

"Everyone started sliding at once," said Lt. Bill Fisher with the Columbia Fire Department.

The pile-up blocked the westbound lanes of I-70 and sent injured drivers and passengers to University Trauma Center, Fisher said. No updates on their conditions were available Tuesday night.

Snow-covered roads stymied traffic throughout the area all day, most notably on I-70 where all four lanes were closed near the Lake of the Woods Exit after an accident involving a semitrailer.

Road conditions

Major Boone County roads, including I-70 and U.S. 63, were snow-covered and traffic was moving slowly as of 5:15 p.m., said Shaunda White, customer relations specialist with the Missouri Department of Transportation.

The Department of Transportation reported that most of the state's highways were covered in snow as of 3:15 p.m. and urged people to stay put if they could, according to a tweet from the department.

A full force of department crews were working to clear the roads and would continue to work through the night until the snow stopped, she said.

"It's kinda hard to get them cleared until the snow actually quits," said Dawndy Baum, a highway designer for the department.

Alhough the department recommended that people stay home if they could, Baum said there seemed to be a lot of drivers on the roads.

The Missouri Department of Transportation was updating a map detailing road conditions around the state.

To battle the snow, a full city crew began plowing first- and second-priority routes Tuesday morning, Columbia Public Works Department Supervisor Sam Thomas said. Crews were still working to keep those routes clear as snow continued to fall late into the afternoon. The crews weren't expected to be able to move on to other routes until the snow stopped, Thomas said.

"Once we get those whipped into shape, we'll move on to the subdivisions," he said. 

The city would also have to wait for the snow to stop before chemically treating roadways citywide, Thomas said. Updated information about road conditions was being posted on CoMoSnow.com.

Closings

With snowfall expected to continue well into the night, MU, Stephens College, Columbia College, Columbia Public Schools and City of Columbia offices announced Tuesday afternoon that they would be closed Wednesday as well.

"This winter storm hit the region very hard, and we recognize that approximately two-thirds of our students and the vast majority of our faculty and staff have to drive to campus,” said Gary Ward, MU interim vice chancellor for administrative services. "Our No. 1 priority at MU is safety for our faculty, staff, students and visitors."

Along with the city and schools, many of Columbia's shops and eateries were also closed Tuesday. Many of those that opened were nearly empty.

U.S. Postal Service mail carrier Jean Viox trudged down half-cleared sidewalks with a bag over her shoulder, wearing heavy snow boots, a postal service overcoat, matching snow pants and gloves. Clutching a handful of packages, she made the rounds downtown, head ducked into the swirling snow, trying to deliver to businesses on Sixth and Eighth streets before they closed because of the weather.

After finding one door after another closed, Viox finally found an open business: The Tiger Hotel. She emerged a moment later, cheeks less flushed than a moment before, perhaps buoyed by a few seconds of warmth.

She walked down the sidewalk past Glenn's Cafe, still open, but empty, and into her truck to continue delivering the mail.

Although many people hunkered down at home to wait out the storm, some businesses kept their doors open for those undaunted by the snow.

Late Tuesday morning, with about two inches of snow on the ground, a man walked out of the Break Time gas station at the corner of Stadium and Old 63 eating a hot dog. He stepped on the ice off the curb, slipped and almost fell. The man quickly stabilized himself and signaled he was fine. Tim Rich, who walked out behind him, gave him a hand.

Rich, 52, who stops at Break Time to get Diet Pepsi from the fountain on his way to work every morning and his way home every evening, said he wouldn't let snow stop his routine of 16 years.

Rich said he likes the snow; it reminds him of winters back home in Michigan. But Columbia is home now, and he was ready to be with his family, have a meal and enjoy a relaxing afternoon.

Supervising editor is Elise Schmelzer.



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