Highway Patrol assists hundreds early in snowstorm

Julie Smith/News Tribune
Snow falls Wednesday from the Missouri River Bridge after a MoDOT truck plowed a westbound lane of U.S. 54.
Julie Smith/News Tribune Snow falls Wednesday from the Missouri River Bridge after a MoDOT truck plowed a westbound lane of U.S. 54.

Early hours of a two-day winter storm froze interstates, highways and stranded several hundred across the state.

The severe winter storm resulting from moisture from the Gulf of Mexico mixing with a cold air mass from Canada is expected to dump at least 6 inches or up to a foot of snow and ice on Mid-Missouri before it subsides this evening, according to the National Weather Service.

By 9 a.m. Wednesday, Missouri State Highway Patrol Troop F had 91 calls for service: 55 were stranded motorists and 22 were crashes -- one of which resulted in injury.

By 2 p.m., Troop F had 217 calls for service: 138 were stranded drivers and 50 were crashes -- two resulting in injuries.

Troop F hadn't reported any fatalities as of 2 p.m. Wednesday.

The troop's coverage area includes Audrain, Boone, Callaway, Camden, Cole, Cooper, Gasconade, Howard, Miller, Moniteau, Montgomery, Morgan and Osage counties.

Statewide, the Highway Patrol had 369 calls for service by 9 a.m. Wednesday, 213 of which were stranded motorists and 93 were crashes -- four resulted in injuries.

Capt. John Hotz, director of the Highway Patrol's public information and education division, said a majority of the issues in the morning involved commercial vehicles along highways stretching across the middle of the state.

Mike O'Connell, communications director for the Missouri Department of Public Safety, was monitoring the storm and major traffic jams along Interstate 70 on Wednesday with officials at the State Emergency Operations Center.

"It's quite a scene where there's just tractor trailer rigs just backed up," O'Connell said of a portion of I-70 near Columbia. "Now, there's one in the median, but apparently they're having problems in both directions getting up the little hills there with the snow that's on there."

In addition to responding to crashes and stranded drivers, O'Connell said the Highway Patrol was assisting people who slid off roadways and marking abandoned vehicles with yellow tape.

Statewide, he said Missouri was in relatively good condition by Wednesday afternoon, but also recognized the storm would continue for several more hours.

He said he was not aware of any major incidents the Missouri National Guard has had to be activated for.

"People really seem to have headed the message to stay off the roads, give the road crews time to work," O'Connell said. "I think, maybe, more people are used to work-at-home options now, and employers, so that's probably also helping reduce traffic."

He encouraged Missourians to continue monitoring Missouri Department of Transportation highway travel information and local news and weather sources before making decisions to travel.

"If you're on an interstate, it doesn't matter how good a driver you are in the snow if there's a jackknifed tractor trailer or a tractor trailer that can't get up a hill, you can get stuck for hours," he said.