ST. LOUIS (KMOX) – The wintry mix that hit St. Louis and surrounding areas Thursday took few by surprise but left crews on both sides of the Mississippi scrambling to clear roads and runways as city officials issued a simple statement to residents: stay inside.
“Meteorologists nailed this. The storm came in hot and heavy. We endured four or five hours of heavy snow,” St. Louis City Street Department Director Todd Waelterman said at a press briefing Thursday night, adding that arterial roads were beginning to open up.
“We anticipate by the morning, we will have Hampton flowing three lanes each way, all the streets open,” he added.
Missouri Department of Transportation spokeswoman Becky Allmeroth said over 200 MoDOT trucks and 450 employees were on duty Thursday night. That included a new crew which took to the streets at 7 p.m.
“If people wait until tomorrow morning, conditions will improve vastly,” Allmeroth said. “If they do need to go out, make sure they leave in plenty of time, leave plenty of space between them and the vehicle in front of them. The later they can wait and put off their trip the better because conditions are just going to keep improving overnight.”
Allmeroth added that at least one lane on every interstate was getting by as of 7 o’clock Thursday night, a sharp contrast to conditions Thursday afternoon. “We had vehicles and tractor-trailers that were getting stuck and jackknifing and one tractor-trailer going sideways and blocking two or three lanes. Then traffic is gridlocked and our plows are usually stopped right behind the mess.”
“The greatest problem we’re finding is, we have so much snow so fast, we’re creating quite a windrow on the side of the road,” Waelterman said. That windrow has made it difficult for motorists changing streets or trying to get on the highway. “So until those windrows are beaten down by traffic, people are going to have to use caution going across them and getting them smoothed out or you’re going to get hung up on them.”
On the other side of the Mississippi River, Illinois Department of Transportation spokesman Joe Monroe said there have undoubtedly been some backups. “It’s a slow go. We’re still covered, there’s no two ways about it.”
“We have a couple places, particularly in a multi-lane section, where [cars] want to get sideways. The backup is not that the car is blocking all three lanes but, in their effort to get themselves right, people are afraid to get around it.”
Meanwhile, MetroLink passengers were told Thursday night to expect some inconveniences.
“We will terminate the blue line which runs from Shrewsbury over to Illinois,” Metro CEO John Nations said. “You will be able to ride it from Shrewsbury to the Forest Park-DeBaliviere station but if you want to continue east at that time, you’ll just need to switch to the red line to continue to Illinois.” He added that Metro bus delays lasted as long as eighty minutes.
As for the area’s most vulnerable citizens, crowds were expected at the city’s overflow homeless shelter at 12th Street and Park, according to St. Louis City Human Services Director Bill Siedhoff.
“We had 83 people last night. I fully expect we’ll probably have well over 100 tonight, just based on the numbers I’m seeing at two of the warming centers that we have here in the city,” he said.
The storm had major ramifications for Lambert International Airport, grounding 167 arriving flights and 156 departures, more than half of the airport’s daily traffic. American Airlines, Southwest Airlines, United, US Airways, and Air Canada all cancelled their remaining flights Thursday afternoon. Questions remain about flights scheduled for early Friday and commuters are asked to check the airport’s website for the latest information.