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St. Louis drivers urged to stay off slick roads as winter storm hits

Missouri Department of Transportation snow plows drive east while treating ice and snow building up on Interstate 44 on Wednesday, Feb. 2, 2022 in St. Louis, Mo.
Brian Munoz
St. Louis Public Radio
A Missouri Department of Transportation snowplow clears ice and snow buildup Wednesday on Interstate 44 in St. Louis.

Updated at 6 p.m. Feb 2

A lull in the winter storm hitting Missouri and Illinois gave plow crews a chance to clear the roads and lay down salt Wednesday before the next round of snow.

“We’re very fortunate to have this spot in the day where things have slowed down,” said Bob Becker, maintenance engineer for the St. Louis District of the Missouri Department of Transportation. “It’s going to give us an opportunity to get things pushed back.”

The break will last until late in the evening. By rush hour Thursday morning, there could be six inches of snow on the ground, and the total accumulation could reach nine inches in some places by the time the storm moves out Thursday afternoon.

The weather forecast for Thursday prompted another round of cancellations. Both St. Louis and St. Louis County governments are closed again Thursday except for essential personnel, as are the circuit courts in both locations.

Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, St. Louis Community College branches and Lindenwood University are among the schools closing. The St. Louis Zoo will not be open.

As of 3 p.m. Wednesday, the Missouri State Highway Patrol had responded to 223 calls statewide, including 55 crashes. Two of those crashes resulted in injuries. At times, portions of Interstates 44 and 70 in the St. Louis region had to close due to jackknifed tractor trailers.

“For the most part, our call log hasn’t been that overwhelming today,” said trooper Logan Bolton. “I’d like to say that’s a correlation with the minimal traffic we’ve seen out on the roads.”

Both Bolton and Becker thanked people for limiting nonessential travel.

Because of a shortage of workers trained to operate snowplows, it will take MoDOT longer to clean up from the storm.

Officials on Wednesday said repeatedly they had “all available crews” out statewide. But they added they are several hundred workers short of where they would like to be.

“We do understand that each roadway is a priority to drivers,” said Michelle Forneris, assistant district engineer.  “However, there are not enough resources to clear all the roads immediately. The focus is on our interstates and our high-volume routes, and it will take us longer to get all the roadways back to mostly clear.”

Our story from Wednesday afternoon

A winter storm that moved into the St. Louis area overnight is already making travel conditions hazardous.

“All available crews are working 12-hour shifts throughout the day and the night,” said Michelle Forneris, assistant district engineer with the St. Louis office of the Missouri Department of Transportation. “If you must travel this week, use extra caution. It will take crews longer to clear the roadways and get them back to mostly clear.”

As of 7:45 a.m., the Missouri State Highway Patrol had responded to 17 crashes on interstates in the St. Louis area and 43 stranded motorists. There had been no injuries.

“If you have to get out, slow down, eliminate distractions and give 100% of your attention to the job of driving,” said trooper Dallas Thompson.

The weather also impacted mass transit operations. Ice on the lines that power MetroLink trains forced Metro to run bus connections between several stops in Missouri and Illinois, causing delays of up to 60 minutes. As of 10:50 a.m., all Metro buses in Illinois were operating on snow routes.

The storm started as rain, then switched to a mix of freezing rain, sleet and snow as temperatures dropped from a high near 60 on Tuesday. Forecasters with the National Weather Service said people in the western and northern areas of the St. Louis region would see mostly snow, with more ice falling near Jefferson County.

A lull in the storm is expected through the afternoon and into the early evening, said Ben Herzog with the weather service.

“But don’t be fooled,” he said. “When we get into the late evening and overnight hours, that’s when we think we’re actually going to see the heaviest snow set back up, lasting into the morning rush hour.”

Herzog said snow totals could reach 11 inches in some places.

The forecast prompted the city of St. Louis to close City Hall shortly at noon Wednesday and shift to skeleton crews, though public safety and essential workers remained at full force. Both City Hall and the St. Louis County building in Clayton will be closed Thursday as well. The county said it would also close most of its parks due to bad road and parking lot conditions.

The graduation for the newest class of St. Louis police department recruits scheduled for Thursday at Harris-Stowe State University was also canceled. The department said in a release it would hold a small ceremony on Friday open to the department and family only.

And a firefighter suffered minor injuries while battling a house fire in the Dutchtown neighborhood.

In St. Louis County, the Office of Emergency Management’s command center was operating with just its staff as of 8:30 a.m. But Michele Ryan, the county’s emergency management director, said it was prepared to bring on staff from other agencies and outside partners if conditions demanded.

“My biggest concern during winter storms like this are power outages and the care of our residents should they lose power in cold temperatures like this,” Ryan said.

As of 10:30 a.m., Ameren was reporting scattered power outages totaling less than 1% of its customers in the St. Louis area.

The weather prompted widespread closures, including of the city, county and state COVID-19 testing sites. Major attractions such as the Missouri Botanical Garden and the Gateway Arch closed their doors. And Dierbergs announced it would close all its stores at 6 p.m. Wednesday and not reopen until 11 a.m. Thursday.

Follow Rachel on Twitter: @rlippmann

Rachel is the justice correspondent at St. Louis Public Radio.