The Ottumwa Courier

February 1, 2011

Monster winter storm on its way

Southern Iowa in the crosshairs of dangerous storm system

Courier Staff Writer

OTTUMWA — Glenys Bolin knew there was snow on the way when she stopped in at the Lucky Rooster over the lunch hour. She wasn’t happy about it.

“I don’t want none of it,” she said. “And I thought we were going to have a moderate February.”

Bolin wasn’t the only customer talking about the weather. Owner Kelly Goudy said just about everyone was talking about the storm that started with light snow showers on Monday.

“It has been the topic of conversation today,” she said. “Most people are saying in the ballpark of six inches.”

What had everyone worried Monday wasn’t the snow on the ground. It’s what is coming today. And the numbers being tossed around at Goudy’s coffeehouse were optimistic, if anything.

The first round was expected overnight, bringing in a comparatively minor 1-3 inches of snow. Steve Edgington, head of Ottumwa’s street department, said the second round that comes in later today is the bigger worry.

“I’ve heard as much as 19 inches,” he said.

If Ottumwa receives anywhere near that amount, every single person in town had better be paying attention. The combination of heavy snow and winds of 25-30 mph will have major impacts. At best, it means large drifts. At worst it could force snow removal crews off the roads.

“Its been a while, but I have pulled them before,” said Wapello County Engineer Brian Moore.

Edgington said overnight hours can be particularly dangerous if there are large amounts of blowing snow. The snow reflects headlights, making it difficult for snowplow drivers to see what’s ahead of them. Like Moore, he said pulling the plows is a last resort.

“But there’s a point where I’m not going to risk the lives of my drivers,” he said.

Such a large amount of snow and wind would also extend the time it takes to get all of the roads passable. Moore said it could be Thursday or even Friday under a worst-case scenario.

Even on Monday, forecasts varied considerably because no one knew which direction the storm was heading. Ottumwa was guaranteed snow, according to meteorologist Jeff Johnson, but how much remained uncertain.

Johnson, who works with the National Weather Service’s Des Moines office, said his biggest concern was the wind moving in with the storm. Wind is perhaps the single most important factor in determining whether a storm goes from a snow event to a blizzard.

The difference between six inches of snow and 20 inches was likely to be less than 50 miles.

“The way it looks right now, you’re going to be in it,” Johnson said Monday morning. “If it doesn’t happen, whew, we got lucky.”

Bolin was just ready for it all to be over.

“I’m ready for spring,” she said.

What does this mean for you?

People need to pay close attention to weather forecasts today. There will be snow on the ground by the morning commute, but not huge amounts. By afternoon that will be a very different story.

Ottumwa officials say residents should get their cars off the streets if possible and keep in mind the guidelines for a city-declared snow emergency. The more cars are off the streets, the easier it will be for plows to get through.

The National Weather Service has issued a blizzard warning that goes into effect at noon and runs through noon Wednesday.