Columbia braced for impact on Thursday as the first winter storm of the season descended on the region.
Meteorologists forecast that the storm would bring between 10 and 13 inches of snow to Columbia starting Thursday night and ending today.
“That’s a big total,” said Pat Guinan, a state climatologist. “I can’t recollect a forecast like that in years.”
The storm began with a mix of sleet and ice that turned into snow Thursday evening as temperatures dipped into the high teens. Up to one-fourth of an inch of ice was also forecast to accumulate. Coupled with wind gusts of up to 30 mph, the winter weather was expected to create hazardous road conditions.
The layer of ice under the snow worried Randy Greer, the maintenance superintendent from the Missouri Department of Transportation.
“The ice concerns us more than anything because our trucks have trouble getting around on the ice just like anybody else,” Greer said. “So we have chains on the tires just to get around.”
Jim Kramper, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in St. Louis, said the low temperatures would likely result in a dry light snow, which is easily picked up by the winds, creating snow drifts on the roads. The drifts present a challenge for snowplows.
“They plow it off and half an hour later it’s blowing right back on,” he said.
As of about 10 p.m. Thursday, the Columbia Police Department and the Boone County Sheriff’s Department reported having only two mild weather-related crashes.
“It’s progressively getting worse, but so far, it’s pretty slow,” said deputy David Alexander.
The storm’s dry, wintry conditions and potentially record-breaking snowfall are due to an unusual combination of contrasting weather patterns, said Anthony Lupo, an associate professor of atmospheric sciences at MU.
“You had a prolonged period of warmth that slowly had the air moisten up from the Gulf of Mexico,” Lupo said. “This is followed by very sharp cold air coming down from the north that provides the contrast necessary for a storm like this.”
Guinan said that contrasting temperatures throughout the region contribute to the instability that often lead to severe storms.
“It’s a classic scenario of a major winter storm affecting a large part of Missouri,” Guinan said, adding that the competing fronts might generate thunder snow, a phenomenon marked by thunderstorms that drop snow rather than rain, which Columbia hasn’t seen since 1995.
Even if just half of the estimated snowfall hits the city, Lupo said the storm is still unusual.
“In the last decade we’ve only had about four snowfall events that have been six inches or more,” Lupo said. “Even in the terms of the last 10 to 15 years, six inches would be quite an event.”
Elizabeth A. Phillips contributed to this report.
- For information on weather, go to the National Weather Service’s Web site at www.nws.noaa.gov.
- For road conditions, call the Missouri State Highway Patrol at 800-222-6400 or go to the Department of Transportation’s Web site at www.modot.org.
- For information on school closings, go to www.columbia.k12.mo.us.