Earlier this week, many area residents began buying extra groceries, sidewalk salt and shovels in anticipation of the forecasted dump of rain, ice and snow.
On Tuesday afternoon, Gov. Mike Parson signed Executive Order 22-02 declaring a State of Emergency in Missouri and activating the Missouri National Guard in preparation for the severe winter storm forecasted to affect most of the state over the next two days, including significant accumulations of snow, sleet, and ice Wednesday morning into Thursday.
Area superintendents were already discussing plans Tuesday regarding the rest of the week. North County R-1 Superintendent Katie Bockman said it’s usually a wait-and-see, but the MAAA superintendents keep in touch with their thoughts and they keep an eye on the afternoon forecasts.
“We cover 144 square miles with our buses, traveling into Washington, Jefferson and Ste. Genevieve counties,” she said. “We know some might think we call off too often, but we not only consider the rural bus routes, we have to consider the high school kids who drive themselves to school. We tend to not want to take chances.”
North County and other districts were beginning to make the calls to cancel Wednesday school early Tuesday evening, shortly after the governor declared the state of emergency, which expires March 1.
“Severe winter weather isn’t something we are strangers to here in the State of Missouri, but we must be prepared for the worst,” Gov. Parson said. “By signing this order, we enable our emergency management professionals to have every tool and resource available to aid Missourians, protect lives, and respond to this winter storm.
“We encourage all Missourians to be vigilant and take precautions to avoid hazardous road conditions and keep themselves and their families safe.”
The governor has cancelled his planned travel on Wednesday and Thursday, while keeping his travel schedule intact on Friday.
Executive Order 22-02 activates the State Emergency Operations Plan, which allows state agencies to help local jurisdictions with emergency preparation and response. Anticipating travel disruptions, members of the Missouri National Guard are activated to be positioned around the state and help the Missouri State Highway Patrol (MSHP) with stranded motorists if the need arises.
The MSHP Troop C spokesman, Cpl. Dallas Thompson, said the patrol will be on high alert and in full force for extra accidents. Like Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT) salt trucks, they’ll be covering the roads and highways the best they can in any adverse conditions.
“We are adjusting our manpower allocations throughout Troop C, which covers St. Francois, Washington and Ste. Genevieve, Perry, Jefferson County, all the way up north,” Thompson said. “We’re kind of moving our manpower around to accommodate coverage. We’re going to be employing 12-hour shifts, providing 24-hour coverage so we can have every available trooper out on roadways and available to respond to accidents and issues.”
Thompson said if the snow levels sour road conditions as weather forecasters predict, schools calling snow days will help diminish the chance for accidents, as will anyone who can work from home.
“If they have to go to work, they need to remember the roads are probably going to be snow-covered. MoDOT’s going to be doing the best they can to get them cleared, but they’re not going to be able to clear them totally. So they need to adjust their travel time, if it takes you normally an hour to get somewhere, give yourself two hours. And if you show up an hour early, that’s great, at least you show up. Slow down, watch the hills and bridges that can have slick spots or if it’s totally covered, just slow down and drive safely.”
Thompson said if one does slide into the ditch or have an accident, they need to stay in their car, call *55 and 911, and leave the car running to stay warm.
“Do NOT get out of the car, because if you slid into a ditch, it’s possible someone else might slide as well, and you stand a better chance of surviving being hit by staying IN the car, rather than standing outside it,” Thompson said.
Thompson reiterated, it’s best to give MoDOT crews a chance to work and to stay off the roads if it can be helped.
Current road conditions throughout Missouri can always be checked on the Traveler Information Map at www.modot.org, or through MoDOT’s smartphone app, available for iPhone and Android phones. MoDOT also gives updates on Facebook and Twitter, or people can call 888-ASK-MODOT (888-275-6636) to speak with a customer service representative 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year.
MoDOT Southeast District Engineer Chris Crocker said crews will have been out from 11 p.m. Tuesday night and on into the rest of the weather event, monitoring conditions.
“I was told by our supervisor that he’ll have crews out around the clock, beginning Tuesday night when they’re monitoring for when the rain begins to ice up,” he said. “Because of the rain, there’s no pre-treating that can be done. We’ll salt and cinder the secondary routes, add in calcium chloride with a salt brine mix on US 67 and the more major routes. If the ice is bad, the crews put chains on their tires to keep traction.”
Also chaining their tires if the roads get especially icy will be area tow truck operators like Kevin Bess, who owns Marler Towing in Farmington.
“With this ice coming in, we’re getting chains out and stuff, because if, say, a MoDOT salt truck or a fire truck or ambulance gets stuck in a ditch, we’ve got to get them out quick,” Bess said. “So we got chains on our wreckers for big trucks.”
And as big and powerful as the wreckers are, well, Bess admitted, tow trucks can also have their own challenges if the weather conditions are severe enough.
“The problem with ice is, it’s dangerous for us and the officers responding to accidents. Give you a for-instance, we were in Desloge on 67, and that storm (in which local roads turned to black ice in a matter of hours) and I was picking up a car. And a Desloge officer was sitting on the bridge directing traffic, but the traffic was having a hard time slowing and stopping,” he said.
“Ice is a disaster. It’s cold and it’s nasty and it’s brutal, but we don’t have a choice, we have to go out there and keep people moving, especially the first responders. We try to rotate guys, to keep them fresh, let some guys go and sleep — because it don’t stop,” he said. “There’s good and bad in everything, but I’d just as soon it never snowed or iced. It’s dangerous for everyone involved.”
Sarah Haas is the assistant editor for the Daily Journal. She can be reached at 573-518-3617 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.