When Columbia Public School officials checked road conditions and the forecast at 6 a.m. Tuesday, they thought they were doing the right thing by keeping classes on schedule for more than 16,000 students. By mid-morning, they were having second thoughts.
Assistant Superintendent Chris Mallory said weather conditions deteriorated quickly and people were caught off guard.
“Anything in hindsight becomes much more clear,” Mallory said about 10:30 a.m. “If we had known what we know now — or what we knew at 7 a.m. — it would have ideally been a cancellation.”
Sliding school buses
The school district runs about 135 buses.
“We had two fender-benders, a number of buses got stuck and about 25 were up to an hour late,” Mallory said. “It wasn’t a great morning, but we’ve had worse.”
The Boone County Fire Protection District responded to four school buses that slid off the road, said Rob Brown, chief of staff for the department.
Mallory reminded parents that they may keep their children at home if they believe conditions are unacceptable. “That’s always the case on these kinds of mornings,” he said, adding that such absences are counted as excused.
“There have been some upset folks,” he said. “We get upset calls when we cancel and upset calls when we don’t.”
After heavy rain overnight, morning commuters slipped and skidded to work Wednesday morning as the rain turned to sleet followed by a heavy, wet snow. The National Weather Service said snowfall in the Columbia area ranged from 3 to 5 inches.
There were 128 accidents in Boone County between midnight and noon Wednesday, said James McNabb, director of the 911 Joint Communications Center. McNabb said dispatchers received 1,027 emergency and non-emergency calls during that period.
Columbia Police Sgt. Tim Moriarty said officers were dispatched to 68 accident calls before 1 p.m. Wednesday. Although there were no serious injuries, Moriarty said, a driver was hospitalized after a city dump truck slid into the back of a vehicle in the Columbia Mall parking lot.
“It was just bad timing,” Moriarty said. “We had all this traffic coming in, crews trying to clear the roadways — and they were trying to compete with that traffic.”
“We’ve had numerous slide-offs,” said Sgt. Paul Reinsch of the Missouri State Highway Patrol. “We’ve been running everywhere.”
Bruce Bradford, a dishwasher at Ron’s Country Boy diner on Broadway, said his goatee was caked in snow after he kept with his routine of bicycling six miles to work from Lake of the Woods. “It was a ride and a half,” he said.
Salting snow trucks
All 16 of the city’s snow trucks started plowing main roads at 3 a.m. Wednesday, said Jim McKinnon of the Columbia Public Works Department.
Missouri Department of Transportation Maintenance Superintendent Don Romig said 22 snow removal trucks were dispatched at 5 a.m. to spread salt and plow the roughly 1,000 surface road miles in Boone County.
“Yes, it’s been kind of rough,” Romig said. “It was super slick under the snow this morning.”
Santiago Valades, 20, a busboy at La Tolteca Mexican restaurant, cleared snow by driving circles in the parking lot while his co-workers watched from inside.
“He’s just killing time,” said Michael Palacio, a waiter at the restaurant. “I don’t know, he could be there all day long.”
While the snow piled up, flooding created additional problems. Brown said he was concerned about 4 inches of floodwater on several stretches of outlying county roads that he expected would turn to ice overnight.
“It’s running like a river down” Wilcox Road, Brown said late Wednesday afternoon. “It’s completely impassable.”
Jim Kramper of the National Weather Service said the region is in line for more unsettled weather for the next week or so. “It’s a little bit of an active system we have here,” he said.
Kramper said another storm could bring more snow to mid-Missouri this weekend and on Tuesday or Wednesday.