Despite low temperatures that swept through the region Wednesday night into Thursday morning, dropping into the single digits, local meteorologists predicted that the winter weather will warm back up into the 40s by Sunday, with some rain and cool conditions on tap for Monday and Tuesday.
Thursday’s low got down to 6 degrees in Knoxville, Jessica Winton, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Morristown, said. Despite the frigid weather, Winton said the recent temperatures aren’t a sign of things to come this winter, and the weather could soon warm up.
“I think most meteorologists that are looking at it (are) expecting a cooler than normal winter, but no, I don’t think we expect it to be as bad as last year,” Jeremy Buckles, local digital meteorologist, said. “I mean last year was one of the coldest winters that we’ve had, and I mean it was one of the first times we actually dropped below zero in I think about 18 years in Knoxville, and at that time it was 17 or 18 years, and that’s not something we see every year.”
Winton said the recent low temperatures this week were actually warmer than around this time last year in January, with the coldest day coming Jan. 29 when the low reached -1 degrees followed by 2 degrees the next day. The coldest day on record for Knoxville is -24 degrees in 1985, she said.
The cold front resulted from an arctic air mass that made its way down from northern Canada, Buckles said.
“It’s a very fresh, cold, arctic air mass and, thankfully, though it’ll stick around for another couple days, but it will start to moderate because of the additional sunshine and radiation surplus kind of it’s receiving here compared to northern Canada,” Buckles said.
Chilly weather forced both Lenoir City and Loudon County schools to open two hours later Thursday.
“When temperatures are in the 0 (degree) area for windchill and the effects, then we have a difficult time getting our buses to operate properly, and so we want to make sure that everything is warm and ready for our students,” Jeanne Barker, Lenoir City superintendent, said. “So, it gave us additional time to make sure that we had a comfortable environment for our students, as well as giving the opportunity for parents to make sure that their students were well prepared for going to school in those temperatures.”
Barker said there were “several instances” last year where city schools opened later due to snow or temperatures that approached “dangerous levels.”
According to the Tennessee Valley Authority, Thursday marked the third-highest winter peak of energy demand in TVA history, and 10th-highest peak overall.
Thursday morning’s peak amounted to 32,723 megawatts of power consumed. Jan. 4-8 was the largest five-day system load swing in the utility’s history.
TVA spokesman Jim Hopson said he doesn’t expect high-energy usage to replicate that high of a demand for the remaining winter season.
“This is definitely among the biggest energy spikes that we have seen in terms of usage in the winter, and fortunately through last year’s experience and through experience in properly managing our transmission system, we were able to meet that demand, which, of course, keeps the lights on and, more appropriately, the heat on for 9 million people across a seven-state area,” Hopson said.
The top two highest winter peaks occurred last year when 33,352 megawatts of usage marked a record Jan. 24, Hopson said.
Although the cold temperatures created high demands on TVA’s system, Lenoir City Utilities Board did not have outages Wednesday into Thursday morning, according to General Manager Shannon Littleton.
“Our system was stressed a little bit, of course, just like about everyone else’s, but LCUB did not have any issues to speak of, and I contribute that to our power provider from TVA,” Littleton said. “They were well-prepared and supplied the load of power we needed, so we did well.”
Littleton said LCUB experienced its second-highest winter peak for energy usage this week. The highest spike occurred last year about this time.
“We’re at the degrees, we’re seeing that arena where we typically have issues, but you really don’t see the significant issues until you see precipitation,” Littleton said. “If you see some ice forming on the lines and those type of issues that’s where we have significant issues.”
He said as long as temperatures moderate in the next couple weeks, customers should not see a large jump on their bills.
“The good news about billing is we’ve had typically a mild winter, so I’m going out on a limb here,” Littleton said. “The customer will see some higher bills, but since we’ve have had some milder weather mixed in, I’m not sure they’re going to see a significant increase in their billing.”
For your safety
Winton said staying inside during intense cold snaps was recommended, but residents should prepare for the unexpected if they have to go outside.
“If you do have to go outside and travel or anything, just make sure you have blankets, water, food, something like that in case something happens and you’re stuck in your car, not necessarily for snow but just for the cold,” Winton said.
Bring pets indoors, and check on elderly family members or neighbors to ensure they have heat in their home, Buckles said.
“Keep anything that could be flammable away from any kind of fires or heaters because we see a lot of — sadly a lot of house fires increase this time of year,” Buckles said. “As the weather gets cold, people building more fires in their homes and using those heaters, they become a very bad fire hazard.”
City of Loudon Fire Chief Mike Brubaker said to keep a watchful eye on heating devices, including fireplaces, wood stoves and space heaters. Keep flammable items at least three feet away from heating equipment.
“We always recommend people to turn their portable heaters off when they go to bed or if they leave the room for an extended period of time,” Brubaker said. “We recommend people that have fire places to have their chimneys cleaned or inspected every year by a qualified personnel.”
This time of the year is when more accidental fires occur, but luckily the city of Loudon Fire Department hasn’t had to extinguish any so far, Brubaker said.
“Normally, statewide, there is a spike in calls during the winter months due to these people trying to heat their homes for alternate reasons,” he said. “I do know ... last year in 2014, heating equipment fires accounted for like 8 percent of all fires reported in Tennessee.”
News-Herald News Editor Jeremy Styron contributed to this report.