Another winter-storm round to hit already-icy US midsection

Posted at 12:30 PM, Jan 14, 2017

ST. LOUIS (AP) -- States across the nation's midsection are bracing for another round of winter storms expected to add to thick ice that already has glazed roads, grounded flights and prompted class cancellations amid warnings that people stay home.

Winter storms are typically associated with heavy snowfall, but the one that began hammering the southern Plains and Midwest on Friday dumped freezing rain - a condition even harder for road crews to treat. A slick roadway was suspected in a fatal wreck Friday in Missouri, where long stretches of Interstate 44 and Interstate 55 were ice-covered.

More freezing precipitation was expected in parts of the nation's central corridor throughout most of the holiday weekend.

While many motorists heeded warnings to avoid road travel Friday, Butch Shadrick said his towing service in Missouri's St. Clair, about 50 miles southwest of St. Louis, said his fleet of five trucks handled at least eight calls for travelers who found themselves in ditches or other wrecks. That was after storms left about a quarter of an inch of sleet on that region, with the accumulation expected to double into Saturday.

"There's not a lot of people out there, but the ones who are are the ones paying the consequences," Shadrick said from his Hoffman's Towing & Service business.

In Kansas, the state's National Guard was mobilizing in advance of Saturday's storm, designating roughly 200 guardsmen to patrol key roads and help motorists stranded by icy conditions. The teams of soldiers also were to provide emergency transportation for law enforcers and other emergency responders, while staying ready to make warming stations available at local armories as needed.

Hundreds of schools were closed Friday, including several college campuses. St. Louis closed all city operations as it braced for what could be its worst ice storm in at least a decade. Several Missouri prisons halted visiting hours.

The forecast prompted the NFL to move the AFC divisional playoff game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Kansas Chiefs to Sunday evening to allow more time to treat roads and parking lots at Arrowhead Stadium. The game was scheduled to kick off at noon but will now start at 7:20 p.m.

The weather atmosphere was so turbulent that thunder rumbled as freezing rain fell in Joplin, Missouri.

Several utility companies brought in all available crews who were working extended shifts in anticipation of heavy ice snapping trees and power lines. Scattered outages were reported, including about 2,500 in Springfield, Missouri.

Forecasters issued ice storm warnings from the Oklahoma and Texas panhandles into southern Illinois, with up to 1 inch of ice expected in some locations. Precipitation is forecast to fall in waves Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

Residents were taking the warnings seriously. Grocery stores were selling out of bread, milk and other necessities, and hardware stores were running out of flashlights, batteries and alternative energy sources.

"They're grabbing generators, and I'm sold out," said Raymond Bopp, assistant manager of the Woodward Ace Hardware store in Woodward, Oklahoma, about 140 miles northwest of Oklahoma City.

Several states activated emergency management procedures. In Oklahoma, Gov. Mary Fallin declared a disaster emergency. The state set up generators and supplies at temporary shelters in the northern part of the state. Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens and top Cabinet officials manned an emergency operations center.

Missouri Department of Transportation crews were working 12-hour shifts to treat roads and highways, said Linda Wilson Horn, a MoDOT spokeswoman. She said some of the freezing rain washed the chemicals away as it melted.

"It'll be a long, constant battle for our crews," Horn said.

The Missouri State Highway Patrol said Tiffany Jackson, 33, died Friday morning when her Chevy Trailblazer slid on an icy overpass on Interstate 55 near Festus, south of St. Louis, and struck several trees. The patrol said at least two other people were hurt in weather-related wrecks.

Lambert Airport spokesman Jeff Lea said that by late Friday morning, 60 arriving flights and 48 departing flights at Missouri's largest airport had been canceled due to the ice. A handful of flights were canceled at Oklahoma City's Will Rogers World Airport, but the airport remained open, according to a spokesman.


Suhr reported from Kansas City, Missouri, along with Heather Hollingsworth. Associated Press reporters Tim Talley and Sean Murphy also contributed from Oklahoma City.