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Warmer weather, busy workers lessen effect of ice storm in St. Louis

Ameren Missouri employees work in the utility's emergency operations center Saturday, January 14, 2017.
Camille Phillips | St. Louis Public Radio
Ameren Missouri employees work in the utility's emergency operations center Saturday, January 14, 2017.

The St. Louis region went into high alert Thursday ahead of forecasted ice storms.

Many schools and government offices were closed Friday, and grocery stores shut down in the early evening hours.

But in the end, the ice storm was less dangerous and disruptive than expected.

Transportation and utility officials said that’s in part because they had all hands on deck. Slightly warmer temperatures and breaks from the rain also played a role.

“It’s always a fine line. If we do well and we keep the roads clear people think that we didn’t need to be there. And if we get stuck and have a lot of traffic out they think we should have had more people there,” said St. Louis District Maintenance Engineer Mark Croarkin of the Missouri Department of Transportation. “There’s no way in a storm of this magnitude that I could leave it without people on the road.”

Croarkin said road conditions were difficult to predict because pockets of heavy rain warmed the pavement in some places.

“We could travel three miles and see five degrees difference,” Croarkin said, adding that it takes at least two hours for MoDOT’s salt trucks to treat just the highest priority routes in the St. Louis district.

“To me, our success in this storm was that people stayed home. When people drive on our treated roads, they take a little bit of the salt home with them, Croarkin said.

“Because people heeded warnings and they stayed home, the roads were much safer. And it kind of all goes hand in hand, when the roads are safer, people feel like it wasn’t as bad a storm. I know some people that have long driveways and gravel roads that they have to drive on that absolutely became a sheet of ice.”

At least two people died in separate accidents Friday in Jefferson County as the ice storm started. The Missouri State Highway Patrol reported the drivers were going too fast for the slick roads.

Between Friday and Saturday, about 33,000 Ameren Missouri customers lost power. But Ameren’s linemen and tree trimmers were able to respond quickly, leaving only a couple thousand without electricity at any given time.

By midday Saturday, power line issues started to decrease as ice melted. Still, Ameren Missouri kept workers on call through Sunday.

“The decisions we make with regards to storm restoration really don’t consider the budget,” said Kevin Anders, assistant vice-president of operations and technical services for Ameren Missouri. “When a storm happens and lights are out we are going to respond as quickly and as efficiently as we can to get everybody’s lights back on.”

Anders said tree trimming done throughout the year also helped minimize the number of outages.

Follow Camille on Twitter: @cmpcamille.