Ice halts streetcar, closes schools and cancels flights at KCI on Tuesday

The streetcar service was closed on Tuesday for a record-long period as icy conditions bedeviled the Kansas City area.

Inclement weather also led to school closures, flights cancellations at Kansas City International Airport and treacherous conditions on roadways.

Some school districts announced closures Wednesday due to the weather conditions. They include Kansas City Public Schools, Lee’s Summit, Blue Springs and Raytown.

Check on all school closings reported to The Star here:

At about 5 p.m. Tuesday, it remained unclear when the streetcar would resume service, according to Donna Mandelbaum, the communications director with the Kansas City Streetcar Authority.

Mandelbaum said Tuesday’s storm was the “most significant weather event” faced by the streetcar in its slightly less than two-year history.

Ice accumulation on the overhead lines that power the streetcar made the streetcars immobile. Two buses running every 15 minutes instead transported travelers along the line.

She added that the streetcars ran through the night, but the combination of fast-dropping temperatures and precipitation Tuesday morning forced the closure.

“We’re using this situation as a learning tool,” she said. The Streetcar Authority is exploring using vehicles equipped with ice scrapers or heating the overhead lines, as other cities do, to prevent ice accumulation in the future and keeping the lines functional.

To check on the streetcar’s status, check its website, Twitter or Facebook. To receive text alerts, text “kcstreetcar” to 797979.

A meteorologist with the National Weather Service based in Pleasant Hill said Tuesday evening that things could have been worse had some of the ice not turned to sleet as it fell.

“If that all came down as freezing rain,” said Jimmy Barham, the area would have seen “more significant power outages and tree issues.”

Barham said a winter weather advisory was no longer in effect for Tuesday night, but roadways may still be slick through the night.

Barham added that a similar storm is headed for Kansas City, though with less total precipitation.

Freezing rain and ice pellets are expected to hit Kansas City between midnight Thursday and into the morning rush hour.

“So we could have another issue as far as roads being slick Thursday morning,” Barhman said.

Snow and freezing rain is likely Wednesday night, possibly mixed with sleet before 10 p.m.

What’s unlikely Wednesday is the rare phenomenon of “thunder ice,” which struck Tuesday — thunder and lightning combined with heavy rainfall and ice accumulation.

“It’s fairly unusual. ... You get pretty heavy rainfall rates and obviously with temperatures below freezing right now that leads to heavy ice accumulation,” said Chris Bowman, a meteorologist in the weather service’s Pleasant Hill office.

Most major school districts canceled classes, including in Kansas City, Johnson County, Lee’s Summit, Kansas City, Kan., and school districts in the Northland.

Officials with the University of Missouri-Kansas City also made the decision to close campus, but the university didn’t make the decision until shortly before 10 a.m., leading some students who’d already traveled to campus for classes as early as 8 a.m. to criticize the timing.

“Fantastic idea to send students to campus and then tell them to leave as temperatures drop,” wrote Roberto Sada on Twitter.

KCP&L reported about more than 60 outages affecting more than 3,300 customers in the metro.

At KCI, Southwest Airlines canceled nearly all flights before 1 p.m. Tuesday, and American and United canceled some as well. Several others were delayed.

Travelers can check for flight information during inclement weather.

The Star’s Mará Rose Williams and Katy Bergen contributed to this story.

Max Londberg: 816-234-4378, @MaxLondberg