ST. LOUIS -- What a difference a day makes: A day after much of Missouri basked in spring-like weather, the reality of the pending winter set in on Thursday with the arrival of bitter cold and a worrisome mix of snow, sleet and freezing rain.
Most of southern Missouri was under winter weather warnings, with up to 8 inches of snow possible by Friday evening.
Even more problematic: Sleet and freezing rain accumulations of up to a quarter-inch were expected in areas south of Interstate 44 in addition to the snow, creating a strong potential for downed power lines and very slick driving conditions.
Several accidents were reported across the area as the weather intesified Thursday night. Westbound Interstate 64 at Clayton Road was closed along with WB Interstate 70 at Bermuda for reports of accidents.
A tractor trailer reportedly jack-knifed at I-44 and Lewis Road, shutting down the eastbound lanes. As of 11 p.m., lanes of I-70 had reopened.
“Certainly power outages are going to be a real threat,” said Scott Truett, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service in St. Louis. As for driving, snow on top of ice “is a very bad combination,” Truett said.
Adding to the Show-Me State’s woes was the frigid cold. Highs were mostly expected to reach only into the 20s or low 30s, a sharp decline from highs in the 60s in many places just 24 hours earlier. St. Louis reached 69 degrees on Wednesday; afternoon temperatures on Thursday were 40 degrees colder.
Forecasters expect the cold snap to last into next week, Truett said.
“We’ll be running some 20 degrees below normal,” he said.
The northern tier of the state was spared and expected to see little, if any, precipitation, Truett said.
Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon activated the State Emergency Operations Center for round-the-clock operation in response to the winter storm bearing down on the state.
Several roads in southern Missouri were partly snow- or ice-covered by Thursday afternoon, including a section of Interstate 55 south of St. Louis. Icy roads were blamed in several accidents, though there were no reports of weather-related deaths
Missouri State Highway Patrol Capt. Tim Hull advised drivers to take it easy, especially since ice on the roads may not be obvious.
Hundreds of schools around the state were not taking any chances, calling off classes for the day. That included Southeast Missouri State University in Cape Girardeau, which closed for the day at 1:45 p.m. Satellite campuses in other southeast Missouri towns shut down early, too.
In St. Louis, sleet surprised morning commuters—the foul weather wasn’t expected for several hours.
Officials with the St. Louis Health Department urged all city residents to keep their homes at a minimum of 60 degrees, and to dress in layers inside and out if need be. The city also opened its first cold-weather shelter of the season. It was expected to remain open at least through the weekend.
This round of wintry weather could be immediately followed by another. Truett said the current system moves out of the state by Friday night, but a second arrives Saturday night and Sunday. He said it is too early to predict what precipitation, or how much, it will bring.
4Warn Chief Meteorologist Steve Templeton said University of Missouri - Columbia fans who plan to drive to Atlanta for the SEC Game on Friday, should check weather conditions as a row of storms move in across that area.
Here are a number of links to help you prepare and track the weather:
Click here for the KMOV.com Storm Mode page with the latest weather condition updates.
Log on to our Facebook page and tell us what the weather is doing where you are.
During weather events, the News 4 Meteorologists are constantly updating our KMOVWeather Twitter feed. The very latest watches and warnings are automatically posted to this feed. You can view the feed below.
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The Associated Press contributed to this report.