Monday, January 14, 2019

Snowmageddon in St. Louis

Well, that was a hell of a weekend. We went to St. Louis to drop Fearless Maria off at Saint Louis University. You may have heard about the snowstorm that hit the area over the weekend. It was tough out there. Really tough. I've clipped a map to set the scene:

MoDot hostage situation

The main road shown is I-64, which begins around Wentzville, Missouri, about 20 miles to the west. We arrived at the area about 6:00 p.m., heading eastbound. Our car was located about where the 64 logo is shown on the left of the screen. It was snowing heavily and traffic was stopped.  Absent any information from the Missouri Department of Transportation about road conditions ahead, we assumed it was a temporary delay. It was not. The road was closed up ahead. We did not know that. We turned on the local radio, hoping in vain to find out information about our particular situation. Instead, we got Cardinals happy talk on KMOX. By about 6:45, we had edged to the area around the off-ramp, but we were in the middle lane and could not get over. By this time, we'd started downloading the MoDOT apps on our phones and were calling MoDOT directly to find out what was going on. We found out that the road was closed ahead. We wanted to know what the plan was to open the road. Apparently there was no plan. Since I was behind the wheel, I couldn't call ahead to our hotel, but Fearless Maria was able to reach the hotel and cancel our reservation.

By 7:30, we were under the overpass. Still, no movement. Stuck in the center lane. The snow continued to fall. Nothing. No communication. Eventually, I was able to find an open space and get over to the right lane. By 8:50, we were at the merge point from Boone's Crossing to the highway. We were able to turn the car around and then go back up the on-ramp. We saw hotels (not shown) on the right side. We were able to pull into the parking lot of the Hampton Inn property. They had no rooms, but they were hoping there might be a cancellation, and offered us the opportunity to stay in the lobby. I did that, while Fearless Maria trudged through the snow to find a restaurant. Just about everything had closed, including the Brick House Tavern (shown on the map), which is next door to the hotel. They pointedly refused to get us food. Maria met a customer leaving the Brick House, and he told her that there was a Raising Cane's down the street that was still open. Mrs. D was able to find her way over there and get food and bring it back. By 9:50, the night manager at the Hampton had found us a room and our ordeal was over.

We were fortunate, actually. MoDOT was prepared to leave people out on that highway all night long; we learned the next morning that they were doing "wellness checks" on people stranded in the area, bringing them water and perhaps a snack, but weren't doing anything to get the road cleared and people off the highway. Eventually things cleared in the morning, but had we not been able to sidle our way over to the right lane and go back up the on-ramp, we'd have been out there all night. The poor schmucks who were stuck past the merge point, who knows when they were freed?

The next morning, the roads were cleared sufficiently so we could continue our journey and get around the area. There's more to the story and I'll pick it up tomorrow. Let's just say this -- MoDOT is a clown show.

8 comments:

Bike Bubba said...

I was wondering what Michael Blandic was doing since he left the mayor's office in Chicago.....seriously, understand your frustration, but I tend to cut people more slack the further south we go....

Mr. D said...

seriously, understand your frustration, but I tend to cut people more slack the further south we go....

With all due respect, Bubba, that’s nonsense.

The problem wasn’t execution, it was communication. We had no advance warning that the road was closed. There were message boards in use on 64 going eastbound, but there was no mention the road was closed ahead, even though it had apparently been closed since 5 p.m. MoDOT let people just drive right into the gridlock, making matters worse. And instead of getting road reports on the one major news radio station in the market, KMOX decided it was more important to tell its listeners about autograph sessions and Cardinals events in Edwardsville, IL. You would think breaking into regular programming in a historic blizzard would be more important than finding out where 80s era Cardinals pitcher Ricky Horton was going to be appearing this week, but apparently not.

R.A. Crankbait said...

With the advent of smartphones I've learned the trick of typing in the initials of the state I was in and 511 to bring up a road-closure map of that state; there have been too many hairy winter driving situations in the last 40 years. Give the government a little credit over private enterprise in this situation - the DOT maps are a lot more current and focused on the situation than the radio stations. Of course, the weak spot is still the humans that are supposed to staff and update the info. Perhaps they, too, were stuck in the blizzard!

Worst situation was the day before Christmas, '84, when I was stuck on 35W near Clear Lake, IA when IA-DOT closed the highway. While waiting for a plow to clear the turn-around so we could all go back to Clear Lake, a semi came crashing through the lineup of cars, killing two people, and just missing me (that's the short story). Very few hotels in that area, and they were full. I ended up sleeping on the floor of a Lutheran church in CL that night, after feasting on all the food the church members brought in from their own tables for us stranded wayfarers. Less than a year later I was coming back from Winnipeg at Thanksgiving and started seeing the same weather conditions. I thought to myself, "I've seen this movie before," and exited at Rothsay, MN and got one of the last rooms at a little motel by the exit.

Gad, I hate winter travel in the midwest. Why can't all the major holidays be scheduled for summer?

Mr. D said...

With the advent of smartphones I've learned the trick of typing in the initials of the state I was in and 511 to bring up a road-closure map of that state; there have been too many hairy winter driving situations in the last 40 years. Give the government a little credit over private enterprise in this situation - the DOT maps are a lot more current and focused on the situation than the radio stations. Of course, the weak spot is still the humans that are supposed to staff and update the info. Perhaps they, too, were stuck in the blizzard!

The maps are good, but if you’re driving you aren’t supposed to be looking at your phone of course. That’s why the overhead signs are so important. In this case, MoDOT knew there was a closure as of 5 p.m. We arrived in the area at 6 without any warning of trouble ahead. That’s where things broke down. There’s no reason that I can see for not updating the messages on the signs, especially since we passed several of them before we reached Boone’s Crossing.

We learned some things on this trip about the importance of co-piloting. I just hope MoDOT learned something. This was a very dangerous situation.

Bike Bubba said...

Nonsense, sure, but you should hear my dad telling stories about snowfall further south. He worked as a semi-traveling salesman (process control equipment) and he knew instinctively that when you got south of Indianapolis, you turned on the CB radio as soon as you saw a snowflake or heard about it--and turned in at the next exit as soon as the truckers started joking about it.

Dangerous nonsense, you bet, but when they're not used to it....

Mr. D said...

CB radios? 10-4, good buddy.

John said...

I am glad you and the family survived and are safe. The blog wouldn't be the same if you weren't here to write it. I won't mention my winter driving experiences in the last half of the last century before I-80 was complete and things like electric signs told you stuff, but I did see a Corvair do about 4 complete circles before it headed off into the six feet of snow on the side of the road. (It kind of made its own offramp.)

The stories we could tell of sitting around the old wood stove, while the spunky young gas attendants filled the cars with Ethel and the wise old station master told us about how this or that road closed at the slightest sign of snow still warms my heart.

Then, of course, there was the Blizzard of '76. Those were the days before we named every darn storm.

Mr. D said...

Thanks, John!

Then, of course, there was the Blizzard of '76. Those were the days before we named every darn storm.

I'm with you -- this storm naming gets silly pretty quickly.