Warnings of an ice storm headed for Kansas City this weekend have grown severe, prompting the mobilization of hundreds of highway work crews and the National Guard.
Meteorologists at the National Weather Service said the coming winter storm could be “dangerous and potentially crippling” with up to three-quarters of an inch of ice accumulating in some parts of the Kansas City area through several rounds of prolonged freezing rain.
The National Weather Service in Pleasant Hill, Mo., has issued an ice storm warning for the Kansas City area that will start Friday morning and continue through Sunday evening.
The heaviest ice accumulations are expected to form Saturday night into Sunday, when conditions should improve.
Until then, roads may become impassable and power outages could spread across the Kansas City area.
Gov. Eric Greitens said Thursday that he has activated the National Guard and signed an executive order opening an emergency operations center in Jefferson City.
The latest forecasts from the weather service predicted layers of ice ranging from one-quarter — generally a threshold for hazard — to even more than three-quarters of an inch in some places.
The storm is forecast to cover a wide area in ice. That could significantly impact travel across Missouri and eastern Kansas and cause power outages by downing tree limbs throughout the Kansas City area, according to the weather service.
The ice storm is threatening to produce a swath of freezing rain along a 1,000-mile path that stretches from Texas to Ohio.
The weather pattern will pump cold air into the Kansas City region, meteorologists predicted, putting Friday temperatures in the 20s while rain begins to fall.
As rain continues Saturday, high temperatures may be in the high 20s or low 30s. How much ice forms may depend on how soon temperatures rise on Sunday.
The freezing rain could impact the Friday evening rush hour, although the heaviest ice accumulations will likely be south of Interstate 70.
Light freezing rain will be possible Saturday, although there will be periodic breaks throughout the day — likely keeping accumulation totals low.
The ice storm is expected to intensify Saturday night into Sunday, with the heaviest freezing rain falling during this period.
Temperatures are expected to warm Sunday afternoon, with precipitation gradually changing over to rain. Freezing rain will likely be mainly confined to areas along and north of U.S. 36 near St. Joseph, according to the weather service.
The Missouri Department of Transportation has issued a travel advisory for this weekend, telling motorists to avoid travel from late Thursday through Sunday.
MoDOT crews started treating bridges, overpasses and highways with chemicals and abrasives, including salt brine, on Thursday and planned to continue overnight, said MoDOT spokesman Markl Johnson.
The crews started work after seeing that the forecast called for ice. If rain had been expected first, road treatment would have been fruitless because treatment chemicals would be washed away.
Among the resources mobilized by MoDOT are 400 workers, 200 snow plows and 12 emergency response vehicles, operated by the Kansas City Scout traffic service, to help stranded people. Crews will have chainsaws and woodchippers ready.
State maintenance engineer Becky Allmeroth, in a release Wednesday, said MoDOT is taking the coming storm seriously.
“Ice is the most difficult storm to fight,” Allmeroth said. “With large areas of the state expected to get a half inch or more, it can cause downed power lines and potential roadway closures. Motorists should avoid travel this weekend if at all possible.”
With many universities and colleges expected to resume classes next week, students are being told to consider traveling after the ice storm has cleared and conditions improved.
Whenever a motorist gets into trouble on the road during a storm, it causes problems for emergency crews and others, said Johnson, the MoDOT spokesman.
“If you’re non-essential, please stay home,” he said.
Those who must head out are encouraged to make sure they have a full tank of gas, extra blankets and gloves, as well as water and snacks.
But be prepared for a long wait while stocking up at area grocery stores.
Just ask Stedmond Ware, who has only been in Kansas City about a week and a half and isn’t used to the looming forecast.
A native of Greenwood, Miss., Ware moved to the area about 10 days ago to start a new job in community development. He said he got a taste of winter last weekend when low temperatures hovered in single digits.
On Thursday, Ware joined hundreds of shoppers at Sun Fresh in Westport during the evening rush hour to gather last-minute items in preparation for the storm.
“I’m waiting to see what it’s going to bring,” Ware said of the storm as he shopped for what he termed junk food. “We’re hoping for the best, but we’ll see what happens.”
Joshua Farr waited in the checkout line for nearly 30 minutes before he could get in sight of a cashier. His cart was full of food ranging from eggs to milk to cheese. He was prepared for the wait.
“I figured it would get kind of crazy,” Farr said, adding he doesn’t think the storm will be as bad as predicted. “I was just trying to beat the rush.”
Around the Kansas City area, local governments on Thursday readied for the storm. The Platte County Sheriff’s Office announced that county courthouse and administrative offices would close at 2 p.m. Friday. The city of Grandview announced Thursday that a reserve ambulance would be prepared, and Public Works crews were treating streets with calcium chloride and beet juice.
The city of Olathe rescheduled its annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebration from Sunday to Jan. 22. Lee’s Summit officials said they were preparing for the storm, and Johnson County’s emergency management coordinator asked residents to stay off of area roads and prepare for power outages.
To check road conditions including winter weather conditions and traffic speeds, visit MoDOT’s Traveler Information Map at traveler.modot.org/map/.
The map is also available as a free app on iTunes and Google play listed as MoDOT Traveler Information. MoDOT’s customer service center is available for information 24 hours a day at 888-275-6636.
Information on winter driving tips is available from the Kansas Highway Patrol. Motorists who need help can reach the patrol by dialing *55. You can also follow the Kansas Highway Patrol on Facebook and Twitter at www.kansashighwaypatrol.org.
The Star’s Toriano Porter contributed to this report.