Winter storm may be gone, but bad road conditions will stick around
Updated at 6:15 p.m. Feb. 3 with comments from the Missouri and Illinois departments of transportation
Officials with the Missouri and Illinois departments of transportation are warning that driving conditions in the St. Louis region will remain poor through midday Friday even though the winter storm is forecast to move out of the region Thursday night.
The frigid temperatures and persistent wind gusts are two reasons the roads won’t be clear sooner. Snow is lighter and fluffier when temperatures are colder and is more easily blown by the wind, said Joe Monroe, bureau chief of operations for IDOT District 8, which includes the Metro East.
“It’s a very fine powdery snow, and you can’t really tell after about a minute or two that a plow has even been by in some places, particularly on the east-west routes,” he said.
This kind of snow is different from the wet and heavy kind IDOT and MoDOT are used to handling, Monroe said.
“It’s Colorado powdery snow that you would associate with someone going skiing versus a more traditional Midwestern storm,” he said.
The frigid conditions also hinder the normal tools road crews use to thaw out surfaces, like chemicals and rock salt, Monroe added.
Officials from MoDOT and IDOT don’t expect to make significant headway improving road conditions until the wind dies down and the sun hits the pavement.
“That sun coming out tomorrow is huge for us. It heats up that pavement and allows those chemicals to work much better,” said Bob Beckert, a district engineer for MoDOT.
Beckert and other officials urge St. Louisans to hold off on nonessential travel until roads are more clear, likely by midday Friday.
A second blast of snow that started early this morning is pushing overall totals from this week’s winter storm to between 6 and 10 inches across the St. Louis region.
Most of the snow that was still falling into the early evening is south of Interstate 44 in Missouri and Interstate 70 in Illinois, said Marshall Pfahler, a meteorologist at the St. Louis office of the National Weather Service.
“Most of the significant snow accumulations have taken place,” Pfahler said.
Parts of St. Charles County are at the higher end of the totals, with some areas hitting 9 inches by early afternoon, he said. That’s because of when the first round of precipitation transitioned to snow on Wednesday morning, Pfahler said.
“It occurred a little sooner off to the northwest and quite a bit later as you go to the southeast side of the metro,” he said. “In the second round, we knew the heaviest of the snow was going to be focused further southeast.”
The total precipitation and when it started falling more heavily, early Thursday morning, is causing difficult road conditions on area roadways, said transportation department officials.
“If you must travel, please be prepared, have food, water and blankets,” said MoDOT assistant district engineer Michelle Forneris. “Please give our snowplow operators plenty of room to work. It will take crews longer to clear the roads.”
The snow also forced numerous flight cancellations at St. Louis-Lambert International Airport. A spokesperson for the airport said that some flights are leaving but that travelers should check with their airline.
Schnucks and Dierbergs closed their stores early again Thursday. Schnucks closed at 4:30 p.m. and Dierbergs at 5:30 p.m.
Eric Schmid covers the Metro East for St. Louis Public Radio as part of the journalism grant program: Report for America, an initiative of The GroundTruth Project.