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Kansas City is bracing for an intense winter storm. Here’s what to expect on the roads

A yellow truck with a plow on the front and a large tank on the back drives on a snowy, icy highway. Behind it is another truck like it. In the foreground is a car's rear-view mirror showing more yellow trucks on the highway.
Carlos Moreno/KCUR 89.3
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KCUR 89.3
Crews from the Missouri Department of Transportation work I-70 near Independence during a snow storm in 2021. Though the agency is down about 1,000 drivers, MoDOT plans to work round the clock to clear the roads.

High winds and sub-zero temperatures make this snowfall more dangerous than normal. Experts are urging people to stay home unless absolutely necessary.

An intense storm is expected to bring 2-4 inches of snow and wind gusts of around 40 mph to the Kansas City area overnight. A wind chill as low as 30 below zero could remain until at least Saturday.

“We're going see the cold front really blast through the region just after midnight (Thursday),” Andy Bailey, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Pleasant Hill, said. “When it comes through, the effects will be immediate. We'll see wind chill values quickly plummet below zero and remain in the 20 to 30 (degrees) below wind chill range for the better part of 36 to 48 hours.”

The Missouri Department of Transportation will have all available snow plow operators working on rotating 12-hour shifts until the roads are cleared. Crews will begin work at 7 p.m. Wednesday — the storm is expected to arrive at midnight.

MoDOT will work on interstates and major roads first before moving onto lower-volume routes. But the agency is understaffed by about 1,000 plow operators statewide.

Lynelle Luther, district maintenance engineer for the Kansas City region of MoDOT, said they are bringing in crews from other regions in the state to mediate the shortage.

“We do not have all of our snow plows filled because we don't have the people,” Luther said. “It definitely takes longer to clear the storm, but our level of effort will still be there. We'll still clear all the roads. It just may take longer than it would say a few years ago when we were fully staffed.”

In urban areas, MoDOT typically plows all lanes at the same time to clear all snow from the street at once. But the high winds and sub-zero temperatures will make it harder for crews to clear the roads. According to Luther, blowing and drifting snow means plow operators will have to clear the roads multiple times.

The bitter cold will render most of the chemicals used to melt snow ineffective — so MoDOT is planning a plowing-only operation until the temperature rises above zero.

Kansas City, Missouri, crews, however, have already begun pretreating roads. With 40,000 tons of salt on hand, they plan to cover as many streets as possible.

City Manager Brian Platt said the city is using upgraded technology to better handle the storm.

“We have GPS in every single snow removal truck on the street,” Platt said. “We've also got devices inside them that tell us how much salt is being used, how quickly they're moving through certain areas. And so we can track in real-time exactly where every piece of snow removal equipment is and understand if the route is taking longer or shorter than it usually should. It's helping us be much more efficient and intentional with everything we've got out on the street.”

A chart showing the safe times to travel around the Kansas City area in three-hour increments.
National Weather Service
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The National Weather Service predicts snowfall and blowing snow that will create hazardous travel conditions late Wednesday into Friday night. Luther recommends people don't travel unless absolutely necessary.

Staying in during the storm 

According to Bailey, the real threat during this storm is not the 2-4 inches of snowfall, but the dangerous temperatures and wind that will cause blowing snow.

“This really wouldn't be that big of an issue with that amount of snowfall, but with the temperatures as cold as they are if people have a slide off or they get in a minor fender bender, being outside for any length of time could be dangerous if they're not properly prepared to deal with the cold,” Bailey said.

People hoping to catch a holiday flight should prepare for delays. But Joe McBride, communications manager for the Kansas City International Airport, says crews will be working there to keep the tarmac clear.

McBride said he does not anticipate the closure of the airport. But some airlines will proactively delay or cancel flights because of the storm system, so he says to check the airlines website before heading to the airport.

“Typically if there's a flight cancellation or a delay, oftentimes that's related to the airline,” McBride said. “We provide the runway as dry as possible for them to operate on. But there are visibility issues at this airport and other airports that can impact flights.”

Luther said people should not go outside or travel tomorrow unless absolutely necessary. She said those with holiday travel plans should consider altering when they leave, or decide not to go at all.

She encourages people to make sure they have a full tank of gas, blankets and warm weather gear in their car in case they get stranded.

“If I had travel plans for tomorrow, I would either leave today or stay home,” Luther said. “But if you must get out, before you head out on the road check our traveler information map and check on the road conditions before you leave.”

When news breaks, it can be easy to rely on officials and people in power to get information fast. As KCUR’s general assignment and breaking news reporter, I want to bring you the human faces of the day’s biggest stories. Whether it’s a local shop owner or a worker on the picket line, I want to give you the stories of the real people who are driving change in the Kansas City area. Email me at savannahhawley@kcur.org or follow me on Twitter @savannahhawley.
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