The freeze is on: Wind chills to be near zero for few days; UPDATE: JC schools closed

Tony Casey • Jan 22, 2014 at 10:44 AM

When the temperatures began to drop and the snow began to fall Tuesday, East Tennessee responded swiftly to ensure the safety of its residents.

Shawn O’Neill, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Morristown, said there was more worry about snow accumulation and lower temperatures in the higher elevations. The big concern over the next few days will be the cold.

He said winter weather and wind chill advisories were in effect through this morning. The strongest winds, O’Neill said, were already blowing through Johnson City on Tuesday. Gusts would hit the upper-20 mph mark before calming to around 8 mph through the start of the weekend.

“The temperatures are going to continue to plummet,” O’Neill said. “The wind chills are going to be a problem.”

O’Neill said with the wind chill, temperatures should drop just below zero. The NWS website said Tuesday was the 29th anniversary of the coldest recorded temperature in the Tri-Cities, 21 degrees below zero in 1985.

In preparation for the cold weather, area schools either let out early or closed. On Tuesday, Elizabethton City Schools dismissed at 12:15 p.m., Unicoi County Schools at 12:45 p.m. and Washington County Schools at 1 p.m. Carter County Schools had already shut down Tuesday. Administrators at Johnson City Schools decided to keep school open while monitoring the weather. As of early evening, all Johnson City Schools were to have a two-hour delay today, but administrators announced this morning that the system would be shout down entirely for the day. Unicoi County has already canceled classes for today.

Dispatchers at both the Unicoi and Carter County sheriff’s departments said that while weather wasn’t all that threatening yet, with no weather-related accidents reported in the early evening, they expected things to get worse as snow collects on the grounds. Carter County was beginning to receive calls Tuesday evening about ice on the roads around Roan Mountain, dispatchers said.

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam declared a state of emergency in an effort to make sure propane would be available to heat both homes and businesses.

“This has been a hard winter already for many home and business owners in Tennessee,” Haslam said in a news release. “This executive order will help families, farmers and businesses get the necessary energy resources to stay warm, stay open and keep operating.”

With the Executive Order, No. 35, Haslam extended drivers ability to transport hazardous materials, including propane, to those in need.

Public information Officer Dean Flener said in the release that Tennessee’s departments of Agriculture, Environment, Conservation, Safety and Transportation and the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency were coordinating with state and federal authorities in bringing Haslam’s exemption to fruition.

The Tennessee Department of Transportation’s Mark Nagi had Tweeted areas of concern for snow and ice in neighboring counties. For Unicoi County, Nagi reported that slick conditions were being noted on Tenn. Highways 36 and 81. In Johnson County, snow and ice was being reported on Tenn. 34, 67, 91, 133, 159 and 167. Similar conditions were reported on Tenn. Highway 143, 159 and 173.

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