By Wally Kennedy
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.
STUDENTS GET SNOW DAY
School districts, including Joplin, Webb City, Carl Junction, Carthage, Neosho and Pittsburg, Kan., were closed Thursday. For many students, Thursday marked the first snow day of the school year.
Classes at Missouri Southern State University, Pittsburg State University and all Crowder College locations were canceled. General Educational Development testing, which was to have taken place in the Mills Anderson Justice Center at MSSU, has been rescheduled for 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 28, in the same location.
All schools in Southeast Kansas were closed Thursday.
By midmorning, Cole Jameson, a fourth-grader at Meadowlark Elementary, had dressed in warm hunting gear to go outside and explore his family’s frozen yard in rural Pittsburg.
“It’s an adventure that childhood memories are made of,” said his mother, Meredith Jameson, who teaches first grade at Meadowlark.
It was the first snow day the district has taken this school year.
“The day off gives me the extra time to address things that I never seem to get to on my to-do list,” Jameson said.
STAYING AT HOME
The Pittsburg Parks and Recreation Department canceled youth and senior citizen programs for Thursday and today, so Jason Huffman, technical director at Memorial Auditorium, took the day off to be home in Arma, Kan., with his 10-year-old son, Xavier. They had big plans.
“I made pancakes for breakfast; then it’s going to be a ‘Dr. Who’ marathon,” Huffman said. “Maybe some Lego building. At some point, I will have to clean the cars off. It will be a nice day overall, as long as I don’t go out.”
For Pam Thompson, of rural Crawford County, the snow day brought out the urge to bake for her family.
“I’m baking a ham and potatoes for lunch, and making some apple turnovers for the kids,” she said. “Then I’ll work on my teacher work sample for my education degree. Probably top off the day by playing some game with the kids on the Xbox. Or crocheting.”
Frontenac teacher Robin Craig and her family left for Salina on Wednesday — a day earlier than planned — to beat the approaching storm. Her son, Tanner Craig, a senior at Frontenac High School, qualified for the Class 4A state wrestling tournament to be held there today and Saturday.
“There’s about a foot of snow on the ground this morning, and it’s still coming down,” Robin Craig said Thursday morning by phone.
STAFF WRITERS Andra Bryan Stefanoni and Emily Younker contributed to this report.
PEOPLE WHO MUST DRIVE are being urged to check MO.gov for road conditions before departing. Motorists may dial the Missouri State Highway Patrol’s emergency line — *55 from a cellphone — if they encounter an accident while driving.
IN KANSAS, motorists who find themselves in need of assistance may dial *47 to reach the Kansas Highway Patrol.