JOPLIN, Mo. —
A winter storm thundered its way across the Joplin area early Thursday morning, dropping an icy mixture of freezing rain, sleet and snow that was 2 to 3 inches deep.
But surprisingly, advance warnings about the storm, along with school, university and business closings, kept traffic problems to a minimum on local and area roads.
“We’ve had about two dozen slide-offs in Jasper and Newton counties,” said Sgt. Mike Watson, with the Missouri State Highway Patrol. “Of those, only five or six involved crash reports. There were no serious crashes (as of Thursday afternoon).”
Watson said it appeared to him that people were staying off the roads unless it was necessary to be out. Cpl. Dan Haskins, who heads the traffic division of the Joplin Police Department, observed much the same thing.
“We haven’t seen that many accidents today,” Haskins said. “It’s surprising. The biggest thing, I think, was that there was so much warning on this. Most people stayed home. Knock on wood — we’ve been pretty fortunate.”
Spokesmen for two of Joplin’s wrecker services said they had assisted only a handful of motorists on Thursday.
Both Watson and Haskins said they were concerned about refreezing conditions overnight, and that drivers this morning might feel overconfident when they venture out.
“Traction is still an issue and could be worse with overnight freezing,” Haskins said.
Helping the motorists who did venture out Thursday were snow-removal crews with the city of Joplin and the Missouri Department of Transportation.
“We had 13 trucks out yesterday (Wednesday) preparing for the arrival of the storm,” said David Hertzberg, the city’s public works director. “They were out sanding and pre-treating the streets ahead of the storm coming in. They kept up with it really well when the main storm rolled in about 5 a.m.”
Hertzberg said it takes a little over four hours for the snow-removal crews to cover Joplin’s priority routes. By late Thursday, he said, those routes were in good shape.
Mike Middleton, head of the snow-removal crews for MoDOT, said the Joplin district’s 21 trucks were out in force before the storm hit.
“This was a very interesting storm,” he said. “We had some snow then sleet, which provided relatively good traction. Our drivers saw very few run-offs, which is great.”
By Thursday afternoon, major improvement in road conditions was observed on Range Line Road and Interstate 44 in the Joplin area, he said.
“The routes are starting to open,” he said. “We’re gaining some ground now.”
But elsewhere in Missouri and Kansas, the story was quite different. Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback and Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon declared states of emergency in their states because of the storm. Central areas of both states received up to a foot or more of snow.
Residents of both states were urged to check on elderly neighbors who might be in need of assistance.