Snow puts skids on travel plans

Slushy accumulation ushers in winter woes.
Thursday, November 25, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 9:10 p.m. CDT, Friday, July 18, 2008

Snowball fights and sledding mixed with tough commutes and numerous weather-related accidents Wednesday as Columbia saw its first snowfall of the season.

Between four and six inches of snow had fallen by late afternoon when the snow stopped, according to the National Weather Service in St. Louis. As the temperature hovered around 32 degrees, the snow fell in large, wet flakes that on pavement were quickly reduced to slush.

Butch Dye, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service in St. Louis, predicted much of the snow would melt by today as temperatures climbed to a high of 42 degrees after dipping into the teens overnight.

The weather service forecast calls for a high of 50 on Friday, then daily highs in the 40s Saturday and Sunday. Lows should be in the upper 20s to around 30, and there’s a chance of rain on Saturday.

By early evening Wednesday, 15 accidents had occurred in the city, the Columbia Police Department reported. Police said another six accidents occurred in Boone County outside city limits.

On Interstate 70 and U.S. 63, the Missouri State Highway Patrol reported a high number of accidents, but there was no official count as of Wednesday afternoon.

Troop F Assistant Chief Brian

Douglass of the highway patrol said there were also many cars sliding off the road.

Some Columbia residents stayed off the roads entirely.

Michka Cecil, a nurse from Columbia, changed her Thanksgiving plans because of the snow. Instead of driving down to Caruthersville in southeastern Missouri to spend Thanksgiving with her family, Cecil made a trip to the supermarket to buy a turkey. She intends to celebrate the holiday here with her kids and her sisters.

“I handle (the snow) pretty well, but I know a lot of the other drivers don’t,” Cecil said.

At Stephens Lake Park, Columbia resident Keith Perry and his two daughters, Madelynn, 7, and Morgan, 6, braved the blowing snow and bone-chilling dampness to enjoy a day of sledding.

Bundled in coats, boots, jeans and hats — one blue, the other a rainbow pattern with an embroidered Dr. Seuss — Madelynn and Morgan enjoyed their day off from Derby Ridge Elementary School. Time after time, they cruised down hill and ran back up, past snow-covered trees and an icy pond.

“It’s fun because you go down so fast, and there’s snow on the ground,” Morgan said.

“You go really, really fast,” Madelynn added.

Perry said the sledding reminded him of his childhood.

“We used to sled all the time,” said Perry, who grew up in Columbia. “We used to get more snow, though, and we’d just sled and sled and sled.”

The snow produced less joy for public works crews from Boone County and the city of Columbia, who spent much of Wednesday clearing roads.

Seventeen yellow trucks, armed with large front-mounted plows and salt spreaders, fanned out across the city.

A similar effort took place in the county, where 15 county trucks, nine motor graders and about 15 trucks under contract with the county cleared snow. The operation is responsible for 800 miles of roads, many of them gravel.

“The challenge is to remove the snow and not remove the gravel,” said Chip Estabrooks, manager of maintenance operations for Boone County Public Works. “We’ve got all our forces working on snow removal.”

Estabrooks said fallen limbs pose another challenge.

The snow has hampered letter carriers. Eddie Hudson, officer in charge at the Columbia Post Office, said his 100 carriers went out at 7 a.m. instead of 8 a.m. to ensure all the mail got delivered.

“The snow and slick conditions slowed us down tremendously,” Hudson said.

Dye, the meteorologist, said the past few years brought only a trace of snow to Columbia before Thanksgiving. But snow before Thanksgiving isn’t entirely unexpected.

“It’s not uncommon,” Dye said. “We are in the winter season now.”

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