On December 20 and into the 21st, roads in the Midwest were ravaged by blizzard conditions, resulting in numerous accidents. Local police and Departments of Transportation for multiple states tried to improve highway safety by advising drivers to stay off the roads hardest hit by the storm but, unfortunately, many didn’t heed their warnings. Mike Kindhart, a trooper with the Illinois State Police said, “We’re stretched way too thin right now, and there’s way too much traffic out on these roads. People need to stay home and let us get the (accidents) cleaned up. We have a lot of semi trucks jackknifed all over the place.”
The Missouri Department of Transportation closed a portion of U.S. 136 at 3:20 p.m. because visibility was poor and “Continued travel in the area [was] dangerous.” Interstate 29 was also closed from St. Joseph to the Iowa border. Furthermore, MODOT reported at 8:46 p.m. that a trucking accident had caused Mo. 19 to close from Mo. 154 to Route Y. Even areas of relatively light snowfall experienced hazardous conditions due to high winds. Because of their size and shape, semi trucks were especially affected by wind gusts sometimes exceeding 50 mph.
One truck driver at the Boss Truck Shop in Altoona, Iowa said, “Until the wind calms down a bit, it’s just not worth the cost to be out there. You’ll probably end up in the ditch or something.” Unfortunately, many truckers didn’t exhibit such sense and did, in fact, wind up jackknifed, in a ditch and/or blocking roadways.
Near Williams, Iowa, on Interstate Highway 35, a 25-car pileup resulted in two deaths and seven people injured on December 20. The accident is said to have been caused by whiteout conditions. Jackknifed semi trucks resulted in portions of blocked highways and roadside hazards on I-35, I-80, and other roadways.
A minimum of 16 states were under a winter storm or blizzard warning during this storm. Though this is the first major winter storm to affect highway safety in Missouri and much of the Midwest, it will certainly not be the last. Motorists are encouraged to exercise extreme caution in the upcoming winter weather.