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Officials urge caution as winter storm nears St. Louis

Snow plows clear roadways in St. Louis in December 2019.
Shahla Farzan
St. Louis Public Radio
A snowplow clears a St. Louis street in December 2019. The National Weather Service predicts the region could get nearly a foot of snow this week as a storm moves into the region.

Missourians are preparing for a severe winter storm that forecasters expect to hit the St. Louis area by Tuesday evening. It has the potential to blanket the region with sleet, ice and nearly a foot of snow over multiple days.

Gov. Mike Parson on Tuesday afternoon issued a state emergency ahead of the system. People should prepare for treacherous weather and dangerous traveling conditions, local officials said Tuesday.

“This is going to be the biggest winter storm that we’ve seen probably in a few years,” said Kevin Deitsch, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in St. Louis. “If you remember back to the January 2019 storm, we had some snow amounts pushing a foot in the St Louis metro area, and that’s similar to what we’ll see with this storm as well.”

The storm is expected to affect a swath of the United States stretching from Texas to New England. The National Weather Service is forecasting the St. Louis region could get between 7 and 11 inches of snow.

Before that, freezing rain and sleet will likely begin Tuesday afternoon.

“There is some uncertainty on how quickly that sleet transitions into snow, which will have a large impact on the snow total,” said Marshall Pfahler, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service in St. Louis.

Snow could begin late Tuesday night and continue through midday Thursday, with a potential break Wednesday afternoon, he said. The areas north of St. Louis along Interstate 70 will likely get the most snow accumulation. Areas south of the metropolitan area are more likely to get ice and sleet, and power outages are more likely in southwest Illinois and southeast Missouri.

“We’re looking at more than a day of persistent snow,” Pfahler said. “We’re kind of seeing these two different waves of the storm.”

The weather service predicts the riskiest driving conditions could be Thursday morning.

The Missouri Department of Transportation is urging people to stay home and only drive if absolutely necessary. Drivers should plan on trips taking a long time.

“This winter storm has the potential to create extremely hazardous driving conditions for most of the state,” said MODOT Director Patrick McKenna. “We urge all drivers to plan to get to their destinations ahead of the storm and be prepared to stay there. If you can, stay home and give us room to work.”

Road maintenance crews will begin work at 7 Tuesday evening to prepare for what will be a “big, long event,” said Bob Becker, district maintenance engineer for MODOT St. Louis District.

“This is an all-hands-on-deck event for us,” he said. “We’ll have everybody who’s available in plowing and treating and doing what we need to do to try and keep these roads safe.”

Becker says because rain is expected ahead of the snow, crews can’t pretreat roads before the storm.

In anticipation of the storm, many businesses and schools have planned on remote work.

The Missouri legislature canceled its session for both Wednesday and Thursday, cutting its week short.

Fort Leonard Wood near Rolla on Tuesday announced it was suspending normal operations on the base on Wednesday and Thursday for non-mission-essential personnel. A small number of people will report to work to continue operations, officials said.

If you must drive…

Pack a blanket, medications, bottled water, flashlight and a cellphone charger to bring with you in case you get stranded.

Fill up your gas tank before setting out on a trip.

Drive with extreme caution on bridges, curves in roads and exit ramps and look out for ice. MODOT advises those who slide off the road to remain in their car with their seat belt on until help comes.

If you’re out shoveling snow…

Stretch before you shovel and take frequent breaks. People, especially those with heart conditions, can overexert themselves when shoveling heavy snow.

Look out for downed power lines caused by snow and ice. Stay away from them and call Ameren Missouri at 800-552-7583.

“This storm has the potential to create health risks for you and your family,” said Dr. Mati Hlashtwayo Davis, St. Louis director of health. “If you must be outside, be sure to dress warmly and in layers, take frequent breaks to warm up and check on your neighbors who may need assistance.”

If you or someone else are in need of shelter…

Call 211 instead of 911 to find what resources are available.

Use St. Louis’ Warming Centersand theWarming Bus, which runs when temperatures are below 32 degrees and picks up people at 13th and Chestnut streets between 5:30 p.m. and 7 p.m.

The aid group Unhoused STL is temporarily opening a 24-hour emergency shelter for anyone who is cold or hungry at Bethel Church, 5401 S. Kingshighway. The group is also looking for volunteers to work at the shelter.

Follow Sarah on Twitter: @petit_smudge 

Sarah Fentem is the health reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.
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