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Snow slams region

Jennifer Sprouse • Jan 17, 2013 at 9:36 PM

A winter wonderland followed nearly four days of rain throughout the region, turning roads that had been sloshed with rain into hazardous, tangled messes of traffic.

Early Thursday afternoon, sleet began falling in Johnson City, with actual snowfall coming down around 3 p.m.

According to a preliminary storm report from the National Weather Service in Morristown that was issued around 6 p.m. Thursday on its website, approximately 3-5 inches of snow had fallen in the Johnson City area.

The Johnson City Power Board’s Chief Public Relations Officer Robert White said the JCPB had crews out working outages in their entire service area due to the snow.

“We have currently about 1,500 customers experiencing outages,” White said. “It’s not too bad, but we’re having difficulty getting to places because of the blocked roads. We’re going to have crews out working all evening and all night.”

According to a JCPB Twitter posting around 8:30 p.m., all breakers were back on and remaining outages were isolated, as crews continued to restore power to customers.

Major roads throughout the Tri-Cities quickly became slick after it began to snow Thursday. Numerous accidents and other weather-related incidents were reported throughout the evening, keeping law enforcement officers, road crews and other utility workers busy.

Johnson City Police said they had remained steady with calls throughout the evening since they had started coming in around 3:30 p.m. A Tennessee Highway Patrol dispatcher said there had been accidents reported on Interstates 26, 81, 40, as well as state highways.

Jonesborough and Sullivan, Greene and Johnson counties said they had received several calls regarding vehicle wrecks, vehicles sliding off roadways, slick snow-covered roads, downed power lines and power outages.

Unicoi County Sheriff Mike Hensley said Thursday evening that all roads in the county were hazardous and officials had seen downed trees and several cars that had left roadways. Hensley urged residents not to travel unless necessary for an emergency.

Hensley said officials were also keeping an eye on power lines. He said his department utilized its recently acquired Humvees and deputies were “out in force,” patrolling county roads to check on abandoned vehicles and assist stranded motorists they may encounter.

Some residents also experienced a loss of power. The Temple Hill Community Center and Unicoi Volunteer Fire Department were opened to accommodate those residents.

Unicoi County Emergency Management Director Ed Herndon said snow accumulation varied throughout the county, with 2-3 inches on the ground in Erwin. He said accumulation could be as much as double this amount in higher elevations.

Herndon said road crews were out working to keep the county’s roadways passable, and that local fire departments were assisting sheriff’s department officials.

There were no reports of injuries or fatalities as a result of the snowfall, Herndon said Thursday evening. But, like Hensley, Herndon said officials had received a number of reports of vehicles leaving the roads, including one vehicle that left the road along Unicoi Drive and went into the creek near Wiseman’s Clothing Store. Herndon said officials were able to remove the passengers, but the vehicle had to be left in the creek as conditions made it unsafe to remove.

“They were accounted for and uninjured,” Herndon said of the passengers.

Meteorologist Sam Roberts with the National Weather Service said the snowfall was a result of several weather patterns impacting our area over the last couple of days.

“We had kind of a stationary boundary across our area that draped from Texas up through Virginia, Pennsylvania and along that boundary we just had Gulf moisture streaming along it and that’s what caused our prolonged rain event and our flooding,” Roberts said.

He said the colder air from Canada mixed with the low pressure system from Texas, which migrated to the southern states, is what brought the snow to the region.

Roberts said it is possible to still have icy trouble spots on roads today until around 10 a.m. to noon, when temperatures are predicted to break the freezing mark.

Temperatures today are forecasted to be in the upper 30s to 40 degrees.

All Washington county offices, including the George P. Jaynes Justice Center, will open today at 10 a.m. Judge Lynn Brown has canceled his docket for today.

Johnson City and Washington, Unicoi and Sullivan county schools are closed today due to inclement weather. East Tennessee State University has also cancelled classes and closed their offices today.

According to Johnson City Transit, Johnson City Fixed Route, Job Access and Paratransit services will resume at 8:15 a.m. today.

Erwin Bureau Chief Brad Hicks and Press Staff Writer Becky Campbell contributed to this report.

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