A heavy wet snow fell quickly Tuesday afternoon over Eastern Iowa and is expected to blanket the area with a mix of snow and ice and disrupt travel through Wednesday morning, the National Weather Service reported.
This “wintry mix” and wind gusts will produce snow-covered roads, slick conditions and reduced visibility, forecasters said. The heaviest snow bands are expected to see snowfall rates of 1 to 2 inches an hour.
Once the snow started falling, the Iowa Department of Transportation reported travel conditions changed abruptly. Snow completely covered over half the roadways across the state, mainly in the Corridor and in southeastern Iowa.
Nearly 600 state snow plows were active Tuesday evening across Iowa to clear roads.
The National Weather Service suggested people consider postponing travel through Wednesday morning as the mix of snow, sleet and freezing rain is expected to create “very difficult to impossible traveling conditions.”
Forecasters expected 3 to 10 inches in Eastern Iowa — 4 to 8 inches in the Cedar Rapids and Iowa City areas — as the storm stretched through the Quad Cities into northwestern Illinois.
As heavier snowfall affects these metropolitan areas, up to four-10ths of an inch of ice and lighter snowfalls were expected in some parts south of Interstate 80.
The first major snowfall exceeding 1 inch is, on average, typically Dec. 1 in Cedar Rapids and Nov. 29 in Dubuque, according to the weather service. But in recent years, there have been some early season snowfalls in October and November. bringing several inches of snow.
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Cedar Rapids and Iowa City crews cleared roads from a light snow that occurred over the weekend into Monday morning before preparing their equipment and materials to take on the Tuesday winter storm.
The city declared a snow emergency until 3 p.m. Wednesday and will plow around the clock until all roads are open to traffic, said Street Operations Manager Michael Duffy.
Crews will focus on main roadways that typically see the greatest traffic volumes and the emergency snow routes. Then crews will focus on the collector streets that connect major sections of the city before moving onto residential streets.
Residents are prohibited from parking vehicles on emergency snow routes until 3 p.m. Wednesday so crews are able to clear roadways.
A citywide all-plow began at 11 p.m. Tuesday and was to continue through the overnight hours, Duffy said. It typically takes 12 hours after snow finishes accumulating to clear all city streets.
Given that forecasters expect it to snow until early Wednesday, he said, “it is therefore likely that crews will not have all residential streets cleared until Wednesday evening.”
More than 90 pieces of city equipment were expected to be deployed and more than 6,000 tons of salt were available to crews at four locations across Cedar Rapids, Duffy said.
“Please allow crews time and space to do this important job,” Duffy said. “Remove vehicles from roadways where possible and do not push or blow snow into the street.”
Air travel also has been affected.
Five arriving flights and two departing flights at The Eastern Iowa Airport in Cedar Rapids were canceled Tuesday afternoon because of the weather. Another flight departed to Charlotte, N.C., before being diverted back.
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Airport spokeswoman Pam Hinman said travelers should contact their airline for specific flight information.
“When weather events are predicted, folks are then calling and asking us if their flight is going to go,” Hinman said. “We don’t give those predictions. ... Airlines determine if their flights go, and airlines are responsible for de-icing their aircraft.”
Crews applied liquid brine to city streets before the storm arrived to coat roads, reviewed truck maintenance and prepared a 50-50 mix of sand and salt to use once the snow fell, said Assistant Streets Superintendent Dave Gillham.
After snow began to fall, he said, crews were sent out at 1:15 p.m. Tuesday to keep arterial streets open. Crews were expected to be done at 11 p.m. Tuesday, Gillham said, but likely will have to make another pass when the snow stops.
Thirteen trucks were sent out Tuesday afternoon, Gillham said. Once snow stops accumulating, larger pieces of equipment can be deployed to clear residential areas, and then there will be 26 pieces of equipment clearing routes.
He said streets would not be entirely clear “by any long shot” in time for the morning commute, so he encouraged caution if people must travel early Wednesday.
“As the snow is coming down, heavy as it is right now, I’d still use somewhat of a caution because the temperature is supposed to get cold as the day goes on,” Gillham said.
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John Steppe of The Gazette contributed to this report.