Historic storm winds down, but problems linger

ST. LOUIS (AP) — As the historic winter storm finally moved out of Missouri on Wednesday, a return to normal still seemed a long way away.

The storm that began late Monday dumped 20 inches of snow on Hannibal and near Columbia, 19 inches in Shelbina, 18 in Jefferson City and Joplin. The National Weather Service said the totals were records in some areas.

In fact, the storm was, if not unprecedented, extraordinarily rare, Weather Service meteorologist Thomas Spriggs said.

“A storm that produces a swath of 20-inch snow is really something we’d see once every 50 years — maybe,” Spriggs said.

The Missouri Department of Transportation reopened Interstate 70 shortly after 7 a.m. Wednesday. Whiteout conditions and slippery conditions forced MoDOT to take the unprecedented action of shutting down the interstate at midday Tuesday for most of its 252-mile length of Missouri.

“It’s reopen, but we want people to understand I-70 is mostly covered with hard, packed snow,” MoDOT spokesman Jorma Duran said. “We really hope if people feel they need to get out on the road that they’ll please be cautious.”

Most drivers sat the storm out. Traffic around the state has been light since the storm rolled in Monday night. Accidents were relatively few. One fatal wreck was reported in the state, a 55-year-old Licking woman killed when her SUV went out of control on U.S. 63 near Rolla and struck a Missouri State Highway Patrol cruiser. The trooper was hospitalized with moderate injuries.

Though I-70 was open again, a section of Interstate 44 from Springfield west to the Oklahoma border remained closed, and Duran said it wasn’t certain when it would reopen.

Other roads around the state were snow-packed and unplowed as crews focused on the interstates and major highways. Duran said many highways remain buried in more than 2 feet of snow and drifts, and it may be days before they are passable.

The worst of the storm was a wide path from southwest Missouri through northeast Missouri. The combination of snow and wind made for almost zero visibility. Many merchants gave up and stayed home. Streets in towns from Clinton to Columbia to Hannibal were virtually bare of people as the snow hit with full force.

Kansas City got about 9 inches of snow, but few significant problems were reported.

On the other side of the state, St. Louis was on the outer edge of the storm. Areas an hour north of the city were buried under more than a foot of snow; areas an hour south got virtually nothing. The city itself officially had 3 inches of precipitation — most of it sleet.

That was good news because forecasters originally expected up to an inch of ice, then up to a foot of snow. Still, the weather was bad enough to force two of the region’s biggest grocery chains, Schnucks and Dierbergs, to close early Tuesday. The St. Louis Blues called off their game against Colorado.

The glaze of ice in eastern Missouri wasn’t causing significant outages. AmerenUE reported fewer than 200 outages as of Wednesday morning, though officials with the utility warned that with the arrival of bitter cold and with winds still whipping ice-coated lines, more outages were likely.

The extreme cold creates something else to worry about. Spriggs said most of the state will see lows of below zero Wednesday night, and maybe Thursday night, too. Parts of northern Missouri could dip to minus-10 degrees Wednesday night, with wind chills of around 25 below. High temperatures aren’t expected to climb above freezing until the weekend.

“When it’s that cold you can get frostbite in 15 to 30 minutes,” Spriggs said.

Schools remained closed, including universities. The University of Missouri canceled classes Tuesday because of weather for just the third time in 20 years, and did the same for Wednesday.

Missouri lawmakers cut their week short because of the storm. The full House was not scheduled to meet in a formal session until next week, though a few House committees still planned hearings.

Airports were open, but few flights were coming or going. In St. Louis, MetroLink light rail trains were mostly running, as were buses.

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AP reporters Margaret Stafford in Kansas City, Mo., and David Lieb in Jefferson City, Mo., contributed to this report.

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