KANSAS CITY, Missouri - Major ice storms are rare in Kansas City, but every few years the conditions come together to produce one. One of the worst ice storms developed late in January 2002 in a winter that was rather calm other than this one big event.
The calm before the winter storm
It had been a relatively calm winter with low amounts of snow in Kansas City. It was 60 degrees just a couple of days before the major ice storm would take shape. It all began on January 29th 2002.
An Arctic front moved slowly southward into the Central Plains in late January, resulting in a shallow layer of cold air near the surface. Meanwhile, a strong southwesterly jet stream began transporting a large surge of moist air with connections to the tropical Pacific.
A strong temperature boundary developed, separating the warm, moist air mass across the southern U.S. from the colder, drier air mass to the north. As surface impulses moved along the frontal boundary, the stage was set for a widespread variety of winter weather.
An upper level low progressing eastward across the central Pacific provided the added ingredients for a prolonged precipitation event. This was a three day event with the worst part of the ice storm being centered right over Kansas City. Just north of the city the ice changed to snow saving that area from this weather disaster.
People left without power
The storm left up to 3 inches of ice over the affected regions on the evening of January 30th. The ice became too heavy and trees started to fall apart.
Electric transformers were prone to explosion and in some cases created small fires, and trees shattered under the weight of hundreds of pounds of ice. After the 31st, more than 650,000 residents were without power, including 350,000 in the Kansas City metropolitan area alone and 250,000 in Oklahoma. In some cases, power didn't return to residents for nearly 14 days.
Approximately 500,000 trees were affected in Kansas City alone, including 2 "Bicentennial Trees" which were estimated at being over 200 years old. Then on the tail end of the storm, some places got snow on top of the ice that had fallen, only worsening the problem for traveling around the region.
Months of cleanup
It took 81 days to finish the clean-up associated with all the tree debris, power line damage, and damage to homes. This was a rare event and when there is a threat of an ice storm, we all seem to think “is this going to be like 2002?” Fortunately, the chance of one this bad of happening again is low. But, it is possible and we will be watching this year’s weather pattern closely for possible ice storms.
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