In what has been East Tennessee’s first significant dose of winter weather this season, traffic accidents and power outages were kept to a minimum, although students in the county and city school districts missed three days of school stemming from a system of snow and ice that swept through the region in the early morning hours Wednesday.
Jessica Winton, meteorologist with the National Weather Service office in Morristown, said Lenoir City received about 2 inches of snow Wednesday, and officials anticipated another batch of frozen precipitation would push through area Friday night into Saturday, with an additional 2-4 inches expected.
“The one yesterday, it was just kind of a small disturbance, for lack of a better word,” Winton said Thursday. “The one coming up is more of a stronger low pressure system.”
After plunging into the mid-teens and 20s late Monday night, temperatures remained below freezing through the day Tuesday, which county officials said contributed to treacherous driving conditions Wednesday, as snow and ice accumulated on roadways quicker than on the grass in some locations.
“That asphalt was so cold,” Eddie Simpson, Loudon County road superintendent, said. “The temperature was in the mid teens — 15 or 16 — when we started spreading salt. The temperature on the road was about 10 or 12 degrees, so once it hit, it didn’t go nowhere.”
Simpson said his department spread about 300 tons of salt on county roadways Wednesday and another 75-80 tons Thursday. The county road department typically uses 1,200-1,500 tons of salt per year.
“It hit quick, hit really quick,” Simpson said about the weather pattern. “We put the salt down, and it just covered it right back over because it was so cold.”
Jennifer Estes, director of the Loudon County E-911 office, said dispatch received more than 50 calls regarding wrecks between Wednesday and early Thursday afternoon, along with 14 traffic hazard reports. Dispatch also fielded about 10 calls of reckless driving during that time period.
“That’s probably a normal call volume for snow but definitely above average for a regular day,” Estes said, noting that dispatch did not receive any reports of stranded or homebound residents who lacked adequate heating.
She said the decision to close city and county schools Tuesday afternoon in anticipation of winter weather was a wise move that likely contributed to a limited number of wrecks and traffic concerns.
“Honestly, the schools closing early probably helped us because it seems like in the past if they had not made that call earlier — I think the schools being able to close and people not having to worry about transportation for kids helped us a lot on wrecks yesterday,” Estes said Thursday.
Don Lee, battalion chief with Loudon County Fire and Rescue, said the county did not experience any major emergencies stemming from ice and snowfall Wednesday.
“Other than just normal driving accidents, everything was kosher,” he said. “... Just minor vehicle accidents.”
Tony Brock, Lenoir City deputy fire chief, said Wednesday was a relatively quiet day for first responder calls.
A “pretty routine snow day,” Brock said. “We got the trucks prepared for it and ready to run calls.”
In response to some snow and ice that remained on county roadways through the rest of the week, school officials with both districts closed school Thursday and Friday.
Temperatures rose to above freezing Thursday as a rainy weather system moved into the area that night and into Friday.
After initially reporting that the county schools would operate on a regular schedule Thursday afternoon, Jason Vance, director of schools, said in a statement later that night that schools would close Friday.
“Student safety is our primary goal,” Vance wrote in the statement. “Our team works closely with emergency responders, reviews forecast, listens to webinars, and gathers all information before making this difficult decision. While it is our preference to inform families as soon as possible, occasionally, information changes and decisions must be changed to support the needs of our students.
Jeanne Barker, superintendent with Lenoir City Schools, could not be reached for comment.
Shannon Littleton, manager with the Lenoir City Utilities Board, said the system did not experience any outages. Likewise, Loudon Utilities Board only experienced a few isolated incidents.
“We had no power issues,” Littleton said. “We’re very fortunate, so there’s really no story here other than there’s good news.”
In sports, home basketball games for Lenoir City and Loudon high schools scheduled for Friday night were postponed and will be rescheduled at a later date.
Looking toward the coming weeks, Winton anticipated East Tennessee will see less precipitation next month.
“Through the rest of the winter it may be colder than normal,” she said. “February is actually supposed to be a little bit drier.”