A major winter storm that is expected to bring widespread freezing rain to the Kansas City region has the potential to knock down power lines, snap tree limbs and make travel dangerous.
The National Weather Service in Pleasant Hill, Mo., says concerns continue to rise that the storm will have a long duration of freezing rain, and it urged via Twitter that people prepare for hazardous travel and power outages.
The amount of ice and where the heaviest amounts will fall is still uncertain. In an answer to questions on Twitter, the weather service said it was expecting prolonged freezing rain with around a half-inch of ice accumulation, which could cause tree and power line damage.
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The National Weather Service will update its forecast once expected amounts and locations of heaviest precipitation become clearer.
“What we are really trying to do is to get the message out, in case that this does come to fruition, that there really needs to be a plan in place if you do lose power or you do lose the ability to travel on the roads,” said Spencer Mell, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Pleasant Hill, Mo.
Mell suggested that people make sure that they have adequate supplies, including medications, in case they have to stay home for several days.
People should also get generators out ahead of the storm and make sure they have enough fuel and that they know how to operate them safely, Mell.
In its hazardous weather situation report, the National Weather Service said the storm could bring freezing rain or freezing drizzle to the lower Missouri Valley area, which includes Kansas City, as early as Friday afternoon. The freezing rain could continue through Sunday.
The storm has potential for significant widespread icing across much of Missouri and eastern Kansas.
The freezing rain will likely continue to spread north throughout the day Saturday. A mix of sleet and freezing rain is expected from St. Joseph north to the Iowa state line, according to the weather service.
On Saturday night, freezing rain is expected to spread over the entire area, with moderate to occasionally heavy freezing rain possible. The potential for the most ice is expected during this time.
On Sunday morning, light to moderate freezing rain will likely continue to fall from southern Kansas City north to the Iowa state line. Temperatures are expected to warm above freezing south of Kansas City with precipitation likely turning to rain, according to the weather service.
By Sunday afternoon, temperatures are expected to continue to rise above freezing from south to north. Freezing rain at that time likely will be confined to areas north of St. Joseph, according to the weather service.
The threat of ice diminishes Sunday night into early Monday.
The National Weather Service, which urged people not to drive in icy conditions, had these tips for people who must:
When comparing the forecast models of the upcoming storm with past events, the storm appears to be similar to an ice storm that hit Dec. 10-11, 2007, Mell said.
“In that event, we did see widespread ice accumulations of 1 to 2 inches cross portions of eastern Kansas,” Mell said. “Kansas City did get some of that, but it looks like most of it occurred out more in central Kansas.”
That storm ranks as the worst Kansas ice storm. A few areas were coated with 2 to 4 inches of ice. About 260,000 people were left without power — many were without power for one to two weeks.
In northwest Missouri, ice accumulations of three-quarters of an inch were common, although isolated areas saw as much as an inch of ice. South of Interstate 70, accumulations were less than a half-inch.
The largest ice storm to hit Kansas City was at the end of January 2002. About 300,000 Kansas City Power & Light Co. customers lost power.
“It was a massive storm,” said Chris Kurtz, senior director of operations at KCP&L. “In 2002, we had 2 inches of ice that fell during that period of time.”
Even though KCP&L’s system is designed to withstand a half-inch of ice and 45 mph winds, they are susceptible to trees.
“Electrical utilities’ biggest nemesis is always trees,” Kurtz said. “With the weight of ice on the trees, the limbs either sag down or they break and fall through our lines, taking our lines down with them.”
The lines can also be knocked down at the end of an ice storm, when the sagging limbs come back up through power lines.
One result of that ice storm is that utilities have formed regional groups like the Midwest Mutual Assistance Group that they can call to find crews to help restore power when major outages occur.
KCP&L also has formalized the way it handles major outages so that if a big event occurs, it has a formal process to follow. The company does annual training and exercises on its storm evaluation and restoration process.
The utility will have a meeting Thursday morning to make sure they are ready and have help in place in case of major damage.
“It’s winter in the Midwest, so both you and I know anything can happen these days,” Kurtz said. “Our goal is to be ready for whatever it is.”
People can also be proactive by making sure they have emergency kits ready with blankets, flashlights and battery-powered radios.
If the power lines get knocked down during the storm, people should call 888-Light-KC. Residents, as well as their pets, also should remain indoors.
People using portable generators should make sure they are following operating guidelines, including using them outdoors.
The American Red Cross has these tips for safe generator use.