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State, local agencies prepare for pending wintry weather

Max Hrenda • Feb 11, 2014 at 9:39 PM

Although earlier projections of a mix of rain, snow, and ice have since been changed, the promise of wintry weather is still forcing state and local agencies into a heightened state of awareness — and caution.

The National Weather Service station in Morristown has projected that anywhere from 3 to 7 inches of snow will fall on Washington County, while as much as 11 inches could fall on areas like neighboring Carter County.

NWS Meteorologist Terry Getz said the snowfall is expected to begin around 1 p.m. today, and will continue through 7 a.m. on Thursday. Though temperatures may warm to the high 30s on Thursday, Getz said the resultant — and abundant — snow could last until Friday.

“It will definitely be around for Thursday and Thursday night,” Getz said. “It’s going to be above freezing (on Thursday). The main thing with this is going to be the widespread snow.”

The threat of that widespread snow might be enough for some offices. On Tuesday evening, the Johnson City Schools system announced that classes today would be cancelled. Washington County Schools will dismiss early at 11:30 a.m.

While local school systems are playing it safe, the Johnson City Street Division has been preparing for the worst. Assistant Director of Public Works Mike Arsenault said the city of Johnson City began bracing for the pending wintry weather on Tuesday afternoon.

“We have actually been doing a little bit of pre-treatment with some liquid beginning (Tuesday) afternoon,” Arsenault said. “We’ll continue that (Wednesday) morning in anticipation of snow.”

Arsenault added that the division’s supply of salt was “ample,” and that street crews were ready for snow.

“We’re prepared to deal with it when it gets here,” he said.

Along with Johnson City, the Tennessee Department of Transportation began pre-treating state interstates, highways and state routes on Tuesday. In addition to preventive measures, TDOT Community Relations Officer Mark Nagi said road crews had been advised they may have to report to work early on Wednesday, and possibly stay late.

“I think most crews around East Tennessee will report to work ... a little bit earlier than normal,” Nagi said. “Then they’ll be on the roadways as needed tomorrow, and then stay on the roadways obviously throughout the day. If it’s a long day, if they’re out there for 18, 19, or 20 hours, that’s what they’ll do.

“Whenever we have anything like this, it’s all hands on deck.”

As with most winter storms, however, the roadways aren’t the only means of travel that will be aversely affected by the weather. On Tuesday, Tri-Cities Regional Airport canceled all of its afternoon flights in anticipation of snowy weather. With the possibility of more snow on Wednesday, however, additional cancellations are possible. Those with scheduled flights are encouraged to check the airport’s flight status online at TRIflight.com and clicking on the “Arrivals and Departures” link.

While state and local agencies are working to help travelers stay safe, other agencies will work to make sure those who stay at home are safe, as well.

“Right now, we’re kind of watching the weather forecast,” Johnson City Power Board CEO Jeff Dykes said Tuesday morning. “What we’ll probably end up doing once the snow starts is staging trucks and transformers as substations throughout our territory to make it easier for our linemen to respond and get customers’ power back on more quickly.”

Dykes said with the potential for several inches of snow and ice accumulation across the region, tree branches could sag under the weight and take out power lines.

In that case, work crews will be dispatched to make repairs, but it could take them time if the outages are widespread.

“We don’t want to have outages, but if we do, we ask that our customers have patience and allow us some time to get everything fixed,” he said.

Customers with Internet access can check the status of outages in the Power Board’s system by visiting the utility’s website, jcpb.com.

Should the Power Board suffer outages, however, other utilities could find themselves affected. Tom Witherspoon, director of water and sewer services for Johnson City, said, in a written statement, that his office was prepared in the event of one of those outages.

“If there is the potential for power outages, we raise the water storage tank levels, pump more water, and keep them fuller in the event we lose power,” Witherspoon said. “In some cases, we may pre-position standby generators.”

While Johnson City offices each have their respective plans-of-action, other agencies in other localities were presented with their own separate challenges for a separate circumstances. Andrew Worley, director of the Elizabethton/Carter County Emergency Management Agency, said he spent the bulk of his day on Tuesday listening to changing weather reports.

“We’re trying to make sure we’re gathering all the information and make sure we fully understand what’s coming,” Worley said, Tuesday afternoon. “They’re (the NWS) looking at between 7 and 11 inches here in Carter County. In Elizabethton, we’re looking at 6 to 7 inches.”

Once that information was collected, Worley said he distributed it to those agencies that would find the information most useful.

“We notified all the first-responding agencies, all the schools in the county, nursing homes, and hospitals - things like that - to let them know the information we’re receiving,” Worley said. “Everybody’s got a job to do. And I’m sure this gives them more information to know what they need to do.”

Those wishing to stay apprised of the forecast are encouraged to check the NWS Morristown website at srh.noaa.gov/mrx.

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