Area public works coordinators have been monitoring forecasts to gauge how exactly their crews might have to tackle the winter storm expected to roll across the state Friday and Saturday.
The National Weather Service issued a winter weather advisory for the area beginning at 6 this evening lasting 24 hours. In general, rain will begin in the metro area late Friday morning, and precipitation will switch to snow in the late afternoon and evening hours, continuing into Saturday. The Weather Service has forecast snowfall totals of about 2 to 5 inches for the metro area, with heavier totals in central and especially eastern Missouri.
Fans heading to Chiefs playoff game Saturday afternoon have been encouraged to leave early for Arrowhead Stadium. The Missouri Department of Transportation also noted that with many colleges scheduled to start a new semester of classes Monday, more students could be on the road Saturday than normal.
For the public works crews, the type and timing of precipitation is crucial, as it determines how feasible it might give roads any pre-storm treatment.
Jeff Mock, operations manager for the department in Blue Springs, said this storm has some similarities to the one over Thanksgiving weekend. A period of rain and sleet as temperatures dropped meant no road treatment ahead of time and left an icy layer underneath snow with blizzard winds, severely delaying and limiting the impact of snowplows.
“It's difficult to pretreat or salt ahead of time when it's that wet; it dilutes the product or washes away.”
“We'll be ready to go in the afternoon, start 12-hour shifts and treat as any other storm. Who knows by the time (Friday) gets here what they'll see.”
“We're trying to figure out what they're telling us,” Independence director Tim Gramling said of the forecasts on Thursday afternoon. “Right now, we'll wait until morning to see if we know anything more than make a judgment on that. We'll probably do pretreatment one way or another.”
Gramling said that if just a little rain is forecast, crews could spread some dry salt that turns to brine and has the same effect as salt.
One thing that will help as opposed to the Thanksgiving storm, Gramling said, is that temperatures won't drop dramatically and the pavement will not have been too cold prior to precipitation.
“It could be one of those where we see (the snow) mostly on the ground and not on pavement.”
Mock said Missouri drivers haven't had to face many winter storms the past several years, so hopefully they remember how to alter some driving habits in a little snow. Road crews also need to be extra aware, he said.
“When we don't do it very often,” Mock said of driving in the snow, “and we have some personnel turnover, too – you get out of practice a little bit.”
No matter what, as Gramling said, “We prepare for the worst-case scenario and make adjustments from there.”