A winter storm overnight Tuesday into Wednesday dropped several inches of heavy, wet snow across south central Missouri, causing trees to fall and their limbs to break, taking down power lines and causing widespread outages, many of which persist today.
In a statement issued Wednesday afternoon, Howell-Oregon Electric Cooperative Member Communications Specialist Stephanie Beltz-Price thanked co-op members for their patience as crews continue to work to safely restore power more than half of its member households.
West Plains city offices and Howell County offices, along with schools, childcare facilities and many businesses, including the Quill, closed their doors for the day due to hazardous travel conditions. Early storm reports published by the National Weather Service in Springfield indicate West Plains received between 10 and 11 inches of snow. An early-morning report from a member of the public in Lanton, shortly before 5 a.m. Wednesday, showed a measurement of 12 inches of snow, and a report from emergency management officials made three hours later in the same community showed 6.5 inches of snow.
Because the snow was so moist, it was quick to melt once driven on or stepped on. Most of the main roads in West Plains were clear by 8 a.m., according to reports from the public, though many residential streets remained covered.
All area schools in Howell and surrounding counties, including Missouri State University-West Plains and Texas County Technical College closed for the weather, as did the area’s Head Start early childhood facilities. Students in Summersville and Viola, Ark., were given alternative methods of instruction (AMI) packets for the day.
As of press time, Alton, Couch and Winona schools have announced they will remain closed Thursday, and Mammoth Spring, Ark., schools have called an AMI day with virtual learning taking place. Students in Bakersfield and Eminence will also have an AMI day.
Gov. Mike Parson on Tuesday deployed the Missouri National Guard to assist the Missouri State Highway Patrol and other agencies in response efforts if needs arose. The order activating the Guard is an extension of an order first issued Dec. 15, 2022, ahead of the last snowfall in the area, which came with bitterly cold temperatures; the extension is set to expire Feb. 28.
Every county within the Quill’s 60-mile coverage radius was impacted by snow. The heaviest snowfall was recorded in Howell County; in addition to the totals recorded in West Plains and Lanton, local storm reports showed 9 inches of snow in Brandsville and Willow Springs. In Wright County, Norwood reportedly saw 8 inches of snow, while Mtn. Grove saw 5 inches. A measurement of 8 inches of snow was taken from the Shannon County side of Summersville, and Round Spring, also in Shannon County, recorded 5 inches, while Winona reports showed 6.5 inches. Alton and Thayer in Oregon County each reported 5 inches of snow. A report from Houston in Texas County showed 6.5 inches, Ava in Douglas County showed 4.5 inches, and Rockbridge in Ozark County showed 5.5 inches.
“We currently have 13,956 members of our 25,374 without power,” wrote Beltz-Price for Howell-Oregon electric at about 2 p.m. Wednesday. “This unprecedentedly heavy snow has brought limbs, trees and lines down across our service area, making some areas difficult to reach.”
As of 7 a.m. Wednesday, more than 6,600 HOEC members in Howell County alone were without power, according to county Emergency Management Director Mike Coldiron, noting that multiple tree limbs had fallen across power lines across the county.
“Our crews began working yesterday evening when the outage reports started,” said Beltz-Price. “Since that time HOEC has requested mutual assistance from other electric cooperatives and we have more than 35 linemen coming to assist with this restoration. Some have already arrived, and the rest will be here by tonight along with assistance from HOEC pole change contractors.”
With the high number of outages, Howell-Oregon’s phone lines have been “inundated with calls,” making it difficult for customers to get through, she noted. Co-op members needing to report an outage are strongly encouraged to do so online, if possible, via the SmartHub app or the co-op website, www.hoecoop.org.
“If you need to call, please be patient and understanding,” she added. “We are answering the calls as fast as they come through.”
In West Plains, the city Electric Department had been dealing with downed power lines most of the night, in efforts to resolve several power outages, many of which were also due to fallen trees and tree limbs heavy with the weight of the snow, said West Plains Police Chief Stephen Monticelli, who is also the city’s emergency management director.
Beltz-Price said Howell-Oregon crews hope to restore power in a timely manner, “but what Mother Nature created in a few short hours takes our linemen time” to identify issues, make corrections — which can include moving fallen trees and limbs — and getting lines back to working order safely. Restoration efforts may take multiple days, and members are urged to make appropriate accommodations, she said.
“Keep in mind this is not isolated to HOEC but includes outages across southern Missouri and northern Arkansas,” Beltz-Price stressed. “Black River Electric Cooperative, to our east, had a peak of 17,000 member outages. North Arkansas Electric saw as many as 27,000 members without power. Statewide in Missouri, more than 61,000 members have been without power at some point during this winter weather event.”
ROADS AND TRAVEL
Coldiron reported several slide-off accidents Tuesday evening and overnight into the early morning hours of Wednesday. The Missouri State Highway Patrol reported only one injury accident Tuesday evening in the Troop G area, in which a driver from Willow Springs suffered minor injures after his vehicle slid off the road and into an embankment in Carter County.
In a statement to the Quill at 8:30 a.m. Wednesday, Monticelli reported city police had not responded to many crashes “as many organizations have canceled or have delayed start times, giving the road crews the time they need to clear roadways.” He echoed Coldiron in reporting several vehicles had run off the roads as a result of the weather.
Shortly before 8 a.m. Wednesday, city officials reported power outages in the areas of Lanton Road, South Highway 17, and the U.S. 63 bypass; while power was restored within minutes of the report, Monticelli reminded drivers of the need to be cautious not just because of the snow on the roads, but because of the power outages, which caused some traffic lights to be inoperable.
As of 1 p.m., the Missouri Department of Transportation’s Traveler Information Map showed roads were mostly or fully clear through most of southern Missouri, with exceptions in Howell County, Oregon County and a small part of Ozark County. East U.S. 160 is reportedly partly covered from Elijah in Ozark County east to West Plains, as is K Highway west from West Plains to at least County Road 6470; data is unavailable for the route beyond that point. Other roads in Howell County partially covered are CC Highway west to at least AD, South Highway 17 to the Arkansas state line and West U.S. 160 to M Highway near Rover in Oregon County, at which point MoDOT reports the U.S. highway is fully covered all the way to Alton. Also shown as fully covered is Highway 142 east from E Highway near Myrtle in Oregon County to Gatewood in Ripley County. The same highway is closed due to weather west from E Highway to Thayer. For the latest updates on the condition of state-maintained roads, visit traveler.modot.org or download the Traveler Information Map for mobile devices.
Coldiron said as roads remain in varying states of snow coverage, MoDOT crews have worked to clear main routes first, and Howell County Road and Bridge Crews were out Wednesday morning to clear county roads.
Monticelli noted that, by 8:30 a.m., patrol officer reports indicated primary roads were “in decent shape,” while secondary roads and residential streets remained in poor condition. Street crews were hard at work to clear the roads, with the main roads being top priority, he said.
National Weather Service meteorologists caution a colder airmass that moved into the area overnight Wednesday into this morning will cause any snow melt that occurred to refreeze, making travel conditions potentially more hazardous.
Cold weather will stick around for the rest of the week, with today’s high temperature of 32, which is below average, and Friday’s high temperature of 48.
A cold front could move in at some point on Saturday that may bring some precipitation, most likely in the form of rain with the day’s high temperature in the upper 40s. However, with the much colder air coming with that front, more snow is not impossible, say weather officials.
The latest outlooks from the Climate Prediction Center indicate a 40% chance of very cold temperatures between Feb. 1 through 5, much below normal, and a 20% chance of heavy snowfall during the same time. NWS meteorologists say are monitoring weather patterns closely.