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Region feels impact of massive storm

Madison Mathews • Oct 29, 2012 at 9:54 PM

The effects of Superstorm Sandy could be felt Monday as temperatures in Washington County and its surrounding areas continued to drop, bringing higher chances for snow and frigid winds.

Washington County and the surrounding Tri-Cities were expected to get hit with snowfall by early this morning, according to the National Weather Service in Morristown.

“We do expect this to continue overnight and we do have areas in Northeast Tennessee that are getting rain right now. We do expect that to switch over to snow around midnight or a little bit after,” meteorologist Jessica Winton said.

While much of the snowfall had accumulated outside of the Tri-Cities late Monday night, Winton said areas of high elevation, such as parts of Carter and Unicoi counties, could see anywhere between 10 to 15 inches of snow by the time the storm moves through Wednesday.

Lower elevations, such as parts of Washington County, could see as much as 5 inches of snow.

Winton said the cold air moving around the hurricane met with the moisture from the storm, causing the cold temperatures and chances for snowfall.

“As it moves around that hurricane, it brings it down to our area, and so the moisture with the cold air that moved from that front is what’s creating this snow potential,” she said.

Today’s high is expected to be around 40 with a low near 33.

Wednesday’s forecast calls for a high of 47 with a low near 30.

Winton said high winds, moving at an average speed of 25 miles per hour, will make everything seem a lot colder than it actually is.

The area is under a winter storm warning through 8 a.m. Wednesday, and a wind advisory is in effect through 8 p.m. today.

Temperatures are expected to warm up by the weekend, with the forecast calling for highs in the upper 50s and lows in the 30s.

The NWS said most of the heavy snowfall will be in elevations above 2,500 feet, but much of Carter County falls within that category, leading county leaders to prepare for the winter storm warning and wind advisory. Those higher elevations could see 12-24 inches of snow through Wednesday, according to Andrew Worley, director of the Elizabethton/Carter County Emergency Management Agency.

“Right now we are just preparing and making sure everyone is on the same page,” Worley said Monday evening. His office has been sending weather briefings to emergency agencies in the county, including 911 and the Rescue Squad.

“It looks like the city of Elizabethton should have just a normal snowfall, but the higher elevations could be getting hit hard,” Worley said. “We know there could be power outages and other problems.”

The Carter County Highway Department was also preparing for the worst. The garage was a beehive of activity on Monday getting trucks ready to meet the challenge.

Supervisor Slim Miller said about 80 percent of the fleet was being configured for spreading salt and chat on county roads and plowing the deep snows on the roads. The remaining trucks were still rigged to do the last small paving projects for the year when the weather warms up again later in the week. The county’s salt and chat (small gravel) bins were full.

The stormy weather has already caused problems on Monday even though the snow had not arrived. The Carter County School System dismissed classes at 1 p.m.

Interim Director of Schools Kevin Ward said the system’s transportation supervisor, Jerry Nave, checked the roads in the Roan Mountain area and determined the road could get treacherous by the normal dismissal time.

“We fed them and dismissed them,” Ward said.

Nave and his crews will examine the roads again early this morning, particularly in Roan Mountain and around Watauga Lake, to determine whether to dismiss school today.

Another problem caused by Monday’s weather has been a spike in the number of accidents on the rain-slick roads. He said a Tennessee Department of Transportation dump truck loaded with salt rolled over on Interstate 26 in Okolona and a garbage truck and a private vehicle collided near the Carter County Landfill. The condition of the occupants was not immediately known, but Worley said the two men in the dump truck refused transport by ambulance. The two in the private vehicle were taken to the hospital by ambulance.

With the threat of wintery weather conditions, the Unicoi County Highway Department and Unicoi County Sheriff’s Department spent time Monday taking preparative steps.

Unicoi County Superintendent of Roads Terry Haynes said highway department crews spent a portion of the day Monday, as well as Sunday, putting salt boxes and snow plows on trucks and conducting checks and maintenance to ensure that the trucks are in good working order in case they’re needed.

“We’re just out doing the regular Monday routine work for the county, and then we’ve just got the mechanic in here and a couple of extra guys to get all this stuff together before it gets dark,” Haynes said Monday afternoon.

Heavier snowfall was expected in higher elevations in Unicoi County. Haynes said his department’s salt bin was filled in June, and he has more on reserve in Knoxville if needed.

“Hopefully we won’t have to use a whole lot,” he said. “If this snow comes, as warm as the ground is, it won’t lay long and we can get it off.”

Unicoi County Sheriff Mike Hensley said Monday afternoon that his department was taking a “prepare for the worst and hope for the best” mentality with regards to the weather. He said officials have been closely monitoring weather maps, and all departmental 4-wheel drive vehicles and chainsaws are at the ready.

Hensley said Monday afternoon that his department had received no reports of any problems with county roadways, but he said his staff has been put on notice in case the weather takes a turn for the worse.

“If it was to get real bad and we need help, all I have to do is make a phone call and they’ll come running,” he said.

Hensley also said if conditions worsen that his department will work with the county’s Emergency Management Director Ed Herndon to set up shelters.

Press staffers John Thompson and Brad Hicks contributed to this report.

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