There was very little warning from meteorologists prior to Sunday’s snow and ice that led to 650 road crashes and massive pileups on Interstate-44 in Missouri.
Then forecasts for one-to-three inches of snow Tuesday never materialized except in the northern part of the state.
Meteorologist Jenni Laflin with the National Weather Service in Kansas City says Sunday’s discrepancy is the result of winter weather being tougher to gauge.
“Your thinking a hundredth of an inch of precipitation, say a tenth-to-two-tenths of an inch of snow,” said Laflin. “Say that doubles, and you end with a lot more where you could start seeing accidents. So, it’s just kind of the nature of the beast. The winter forecasting is pretty difficult. And small change in the track, or a small change in temperature can equal a big change in the how much snow you get.”
The Missouri State Highway Patrol responded to more than 100 calls of accidents in the Kansas City area Sunday. Five traffic related deaths were reported across the state. And there were numerous chain reaction crashes on Interstate-44 between Springfield and Rolla, including a massive pileup of between 50-and-100 vehicles and semi trucks in Marshfield that claimed a life.
Meteorologist Mike Griffin with the National Weather Service in Springfield says Sunday’s problem was the result of crashing temperatures over a short period of time.
“It went from the mid-30’s to the upper-teens in a matter of a couple of hours, said Griffin. “And that caused the wet roadways to do a flash freeze. It literally went from just being wet because it was melting, to freezing over in a matter of minutes. That’s the problem that people didn’t realize was going to happen to the roads.”
An unusual phenomenon may have contributed to confusion over how much snow was predicted for Tuesday. Meteorologist Laflin says the National Weather Service in Kansas City received a flood of inquiries over a February 4th, 2014 forecast for six-to-eight inches of snow that may have recycled onto social media feeds.
“That’s been some of the negative feedback we’ve gotten too,” Laflin said. “It’s just a misunderstanding of what the forecast actually was. Timehop or one of those algorithms that brings things back up received comments. And then all of a sudden, the nature of social media, it just went kind of wild.”
Timehop is an application for smartphones that collects old photos and posts from Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Dropbox and distributes the past.