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This winter was so bad Kansas City nearly ran out of ice melt — but is it the worst?

30-inch water main spews water into south Kansas City field

A 30-inch water main broke about 7:30 a.m. Sunday near 9900 Blue River Road, leaving many residents and businesses with no water or low water pressure. Inspectors found the broken pipe spewing water in a field.
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A 30-inch water main broke about 7:30 a.m. Sunday near 9900 Blue River Road, leaving many residents and businesses with no water or low water pressure. Inspectors found the broken pipe spewing water in a field.

The main Jackson County Courthouse is closed for weeks. Two large water main breaks in one weekend. Schools canceled for consecutive days. Potholes everywhere. A shortage of ice melt.

But has it been Kansas City’s worst winter?

Residents may think so, but the numbers say no.

Meteorologists at the National Weather Service in Kansas City say they don’t have to look back more than eight years to know whether this has been an all-time worst winter or not.

“Just looking back to 2011, it’s clear we aren’t having the worst winter,” meteorologist Jimmy Barham said.

According to his data, Kansas City has experienced multiple years since 2011 that have brought more snow and lower temperatures than this year.

“The only thing about this winter that was kind of out of the ordinary was the November blizzard. The last time we had a blizzard like that was 2011.”

For the Kansas City Water Services Department, January — though marked by two snow storms — did not bring an unusual number of water main breaks.

Brooke Givens, spokeswoman for the water department, said there were 75 breaks this January, compared to 91 in January 2018. The 10-year January average is 105 breaks. The record for January is 159, but Givens could not immediately say what year that was.

As of Sunday, this February has seen 16 water main breaks. That is the same number as Feb. 1-11 last year.

“There are some pipes in the system that are more than 100 years old,” Givens said. “We have begun an active replacement program so that every year we hope to replace 1 percent of the system.”

The pipes being replaced are prioritized based on their history and the impact a break would have on schools, hospitals, etc., Givens said.

There were two large pipe ruptures Sunday morning. A 24-inch main at 3340 W. Coleman Road affected 34 customers before it could be isolated and repaired overnight.

Another outage was reported about 7:30 a.m. Sunday, just as many in south Kansas City residents were no doubt headed to the shower. A 30-inch concrete main was gushing water into a field at 9900 Blue River Road. The break was isolated by 3:30 p.m.

“Everybody should have water,” Givens said Monday, adding that customers are being serviced through other lines while repairs are made. She did not have a count of the customers that were affected.

Repairs to the Blue River Road main will be complicated by a 45-degree turn in the pipe at the point where the break occurred.

Meanwhile, the courthouse at 415 E. 12th St. that closed Jan. 31 will remain closed until Feb. 19 because a large underground water line outside the courthouse burst, filling the basement with more than 10 feet of water and thousands of pounds of mud and debris.

It was a private line and did not belong to the water department, which shut off the valve to stop the flooding.

The damage affected or destroyed components of “all major operating systems,’’ according to a county announcement. Some court cases are being heard in the Criminal Justice Building at 1315 Locust St.

It may not be the worst winter, but with a few more weeks of the season remaining, most districts have already closed more days this year than all of last winter.

Shawnee Mission schools so far have closed for five days due to snow or frigid weather.

Lee’s Summit has closed for seven, including last week. “That seems like a lot,” said spokeswoman Kelly Wachel. Last year, the district’s final snow day last year was Jan. 22.

Area districts are still formulating plans for how to make up the days.

Meanwhile, people with stubborn ice on their sidewalks and driveways report driving to store after store and finding no ice melt supplies.

“Is there anywhere in Kansas City that has ice melt in stock? 0-6 right now,” Chiefs team reporter BJ Kissel tweeted Saturday.

Kissel eventually found some Sunday at the Price Chopper at 135th Street and Mission Road.



The Home Depot in Midtown received truckloads of ice melt both Saturday and Sunday and promptly sold out both days, said merchandising manager Gabe Heim. He could not say Monday morning when another shipment would arrive.

“We do not have an ETA at this time,” he said.

As for those pesky potholes, the Missouri Department of Transportation began asking motorists to report them a few weeks ago, which is earlier than normal. A city spokesman said this season’s freeze-thaw cycle has caused a lot of potholes, which are being repaired daily.

To report a pothole or water service issue, Kansas City residents should call 311.

MoDOT can be reached by its Customer Service number: 1-888-ASK-MoDOT. In Kansas, motorists and residents are encouraged to send an email to the Department of Transportation at KDOT#PublicInfo@ks.gov.

This year’s winter hasn’t been fully written though, meteorologist Barham said, noting that early weather reports hint at a high amount of precipitation in the atmosphere, “which probably means we’re in for a couple more rounds of snow.”

Includes reporting by The Star’s Mará Rose Williams, Katy Bergen and Glenn E. Rice.
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