JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Gov. Mike Parson is activating the Missouri National Guard to help with state and local response efforts during the winter storm.
The Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT) said it’s short 1,000 workers for a winter weather event like the one that will start to impact the state Wednesday night. With bitter cold temperatures, high winds and a storm that is hitting the entire state, MoDOT and the Missouri State Highway Patrol (MSHP) are asking travelers to stay off the roads.
“This executive order will activate the Missouri National Guard and the Missouri State’s Emergency Management Operational Plan,” Parson said. “These conditions could be extremely hazardous.”
With all the hustle and bustle before Christmas, add in a snowstorm with blowing and drifting snow and below zero windchills. State agencies like the National Guard, State Emergency Management Agency (SEMA), MSHP and MoDOT are working to keep travelers safe and roads clear.
“What are we most concerned about?,” MoDOT Central District Engineer Jason Schafer said. “The temperature.”
He said MoDOT is not pretreating the center of the state and major interstates like I-44 and I-70 for fear of icing or chemicals not working at all.
“The forecast we have is for a very dry snow which is not normal for what we see in Missouri,” Schafer said. “The temperatures are going to be well below zero and at these temperatures, our chemicals start to lose effectiveness quite rapidly.”
The cold can also cause havoc on MoDOT’s equipment.
“Diesel fuel is prone to gelling at these lower temperatures,” Schafer said. “All of our dump trucks are diesel powered.”
The Missouri National Guard will help MSHP by responding to stranded drivers and clearing roadways.
“If we have some areas where there is some really deep snow, and we couldn’t get to those areas, they have some vehicles they can use to help us,” MSHP Public Information Director Captain John Hotz said. “It is possible for the roadway to get blocked up if you get a couple of tractor trailers jackknifed. You may think you’re going on a short trip and you may end up being out there for a long time.”
Hotz and MSHP is asking if you get stranded, to stay in your car and call for help.
“We have people killed every year because they slide off the roadway and they walk around their vehicle and someone else comes along and loses control in that same area and then their vehicle strikes that person out there on the side of the road,” Hotz said.
Normally, snowplow drivers and troopers move around Missouri for winter weather events, but with a statewide storm and a shortage of workers, there’s no easy solution.
MoDOT Central District Engineer Machelle Watkins said the department does communicate with trucking companies to warn them of road conditions.
Parts of the state could see 30 to 40 degrees below zero Friday morning which concerns MoDOT more than the snowfall totals.
“The snow accumulation is not going to be anything really remarkable, but it’s the temperature and the wind that we’re going to be experiencing that is the big concern,” Schafer said. “Just stay home if at all possible.”
Most of the state is in a winter storm warning, while Missouri’s most southern counties are under a winter weather advisory. The state is expecting to see anywhere between 1 to 5 inches of snow, with more snowfall the farther north you go.
Back in November, MoDOT Director Patrick McKenna said most of the employees who are leaving the department say it’s because of pay. Between last year and this year, McKenna said MoDOT has lost 1,526 workers.
Internal turnover at MoDOT about eight years ago was 10%, McKenna said. Then, within the last four to five years, the turnover rate was about 15%. During the pandemic, the department’s turnover reached an all-time high of 20%.
MoDOT is offering a starting wage between $17.55 and $18.25 per hour, depending on experience and area of operation. The positions are also eligible for $3 to $6 per hour boosts in pay when working winter/emergency operations activities.
Full-time employees receive full training and a long list of other benefits including retirement, paid leave, medical, vision, and dental insurance. Applicants need to be at least 18 years old and successfully complete a criminal background check (a misdemeanor or felony conviction is not an automatic restriction to employment).
For those who must travel, drivers are encouraged to check road conditions on MoDOT’s Traveler Information Map, which can be found on their website or on the app.