Many Trees Down In County As Crews Continue Working; Internet Problems
Greene Countians who have spent the last four-and-a-half days worrying about flooded roads and flooded basements suddenly found themselves Thursday afternoon with a new and even more urgent problem: getting home on streets and roads covered with snow.
Almost everyone who has lived in East Tennessee very long has heard it said that, in this part of the state, "If you don't like the weather, wait 30 minutes."
Thursday afternoon, that's just what happened, and it may not even have taken 30 minutes.
Since Sunday evening, 6.49 inches of precipitation have been recorded in Greene County, based on measurements at the University of Tennessee AgResearch and Education Center on East Allens Bridge Road, the county's only official weather data station.
Two inches of that total came in the form of snow on Thursday.
HOW SNOW STARTED
By early Thursday afternoon, after a few hours in the morning with little or no rain, the precipitation had returned, as the temperature slowly dropped toward the 32-33-degree range that the National Weather Service had predicted for late afternoon.
What the NWS is calling "Winter Storm Iago" arrived about an hour early, leaving in its wake a few rare inches of snow in Deep South cities including Jackson, Miss., and Birmingham, Ala.
By 3:15 p.m. Thursday, big, wet flakes of snow were pouring down here in blizzard style, and within minutes the snow had coated every exposed surface in sight -- even waterlogged trees and yards.
By 4 p.m., many motorists trying to hurry home early from work found themselves sliding on Greeneville streets and Greene County roads, or dodging others who were unable to get traction on the snowy streets and roadways.
Some drivers simply parked their vehicles and called a family member or friend with four-wheel-drive to come get them.
An apparently widespread Internet outage was being experienced by numerous businesses and individuals across the state. Among those affected were The Greeneville Sun and GreenevilleSun.com
A representative of Jones Media Inc. contacted CenturyLink, which provides Internet services, at approximately 7 a.m. today.
A CenturyLink customer service representative said the outage was "statewide." No estimated time for restoration of Internet service was given at that time.
"Service was restored to GreenevilleSun.com shortly after 10 a.m.," said Brian Cutshall, director of online operations for The Greeneville Sun.
SCHOOLS, OFFICE CLOSE
Even before the National Weather Service issued a warning that several inches of snow were heading for East Tennessee, Western North Carolina and Southwest Virginia, the Greene County Schools had canceled classes for the day because of the danger of flooded roads, especially in the western and northern areas of the county.
While flooding was not a problem on Greeneville streets, the Greeneville City Schools had dismissed classes for the day at 1 p.m. Thursday in an effort to beat the snow predicted for late afternoon.
Most employees of the Town of Greeneville were dismissed several hours early on Thursday because of the approaching winter storm.
The striking thing about the arrival of Winter Storm Iago was how quickly the rain and sleet turned to snow.
Local governmental agencies had been working hard to deal with flooding and had to make a fast adjustment and re-focus on trying to clear the streets and roads.
But they had been preparing, and their response was fast.
COUNTY ROADS UPDATE
The Greene County Road Department began salting as the snow fell Thursday afternoon and had not stopped as of 8 a.m. today, according to Road Superintendent David Weems.
"We salted all night," he said. "Road conditions are clear in spots but with a little bit of black ice in others."
He urged motorists to use caution while traveling, especially around curves where snow melts and packs into ice.
"The salt will continue to loosen those up as the sun comes up," Weems said. "Hopefully by lunch most of them will be cleared out. We're going to continue to put salt on the slick places and frozen places to try to speed that process up."
There were six or seven crews working on snow removal throughout the night, focusing mainly on the more frequently traveled roads, he said.
An additional four crews worked to remove downed trees.
"We had several trees down last night, scattered throughout the county, right about dark," Weems said.
20 ROADS STILL FLOODED
At least 20 roads remained closed this morning due to flooding from extended rain earlier in the week.
Fresh crews out working this morning will be checking the status of these roads and, it is hoped, removing barriers at those ready to be reopened, Weems said.
However, despite the slick roads, downed trees and still-flooded roads, Director Bill Brown said the Greene County Office of Emergency Management and Homeland Security did not have to make any rescues related to the weather during the past 24 hours.
Town of Greeneville Public Works Director Brad Peters said this morning that no major incidents were reported to his department overnight.
Public Works Department crews worked to clear the major roadways, intersections, and hospital entrances in town.
Peters estimated crews spread 15 to 20 tons of salt to clear Greeneville streets.
"I want to commend William Barner and our other Public Works employees," Peters said.
"They worked most of the night, so I want to give them a little pat on the back.
"We tried to get all of the major roads cleared," Peters added.
He emphasized, however, that motorists should still exercise extreme caution while traveling today. "It is still slick out there," he said.
Greeneville Light & Power System General Manager Bill Carroll said this morning that broken poles and trees weighed down by snow were to blame for outages around Greene County.
Carroll said that about 6:30 p.m. on Thursday, approximately 4,000 customers lost power.
An outage at the Shiloh Substation behind Tusculum College was to blame for loss of power to approximately 3,000 customers. Carroll said that outage lasted about 30 minutes.
By 7 p.m. 1,000 customers remained without power.
At 8:30 p.m. that number had climbed to 1,450 as scattered outages were reported around the county.
The largest groups of outages at that time were approximately 200 customers in the Shackleford Road area and another 100 customers on Sugarbowl Road.
As of 10:30 p.m. 900 GL&PS customers remained affected, and outages were reported on Viking Mountain.
As of 8:30 a.m. today, approximately 50 customers on Viking Mountain remained without electricity.
Carroll said crews hoped to have power restored today to those 50 customers, but conditions made it difficult to get to the affected area.
WATER DEPT. MOSTLY OK
No issues related to the winter weather were reported to the Greeneville Water Commission, according to Superintendent Laura White and Shop Foreman William Ross.
Ross indicated that there were a few minor issues related to heavy rains that occurred prior to the snowfall.
Some sewers in various locations were backed up due to the amount of rain received over the past few days, but the issues were localized, Ross said.
It didn't take long once the big, wet flakes started falling for law enforcement agencies to begin receiving calls about cars off the road and fender-bender wrecks.
Greeneville police fielded a number of such calls throughout Thursday afternoon.
No serious wrecks with injuries were reported, but numerous minor accidents and disabled-vehicle calls kept police very busy, Capt. Steve Hixson said.
At least 12 such calls came in to Greeneville police headquarters between 2 and 7:30 p.m.
"We had numerous wreck calls, fender-benders and vehicles sliding off the road," Hixson said this morning.
TUSCULUM BLVD. BLOCKED
A large tree came down on Tusculum Boulevard about 6 p.m. between entrances to the Greeneville Commons, he said.
The 60-70 foot tree blocked the busy roadway and took about 90 minutes to remove, Hixson said.
The tree roots were apparently loosened by the heavy rain earlier in the week and that factor contributed to its toppling onto the road, he said.
Wolf Tree and Greeneville Light & Power System crews helped remove the tree as police diverted traffic.
"They did an excellent job of getting the roadway back open," Hixson said.
By 4:30 p.m., Greeneville police switched from patrol cars to four-wheel drive vehicles.
As the snow accumulated, several vehicles became stranded along the 70 Bypass. Others were stuck on Fairgrounds Road and Baileyton Road.
Cars blocking the road were towed. Contact the Greeneville Police Department for information at (423) 639-7111.
Hixson said the snow kept officers busy throughout the evening.
"I hope it is the only one this year," he added.
DEPUTIES BUSY IN COUNTY
Greene County sheriff's deputies had a busy afternoon. They also switched over to four-wheel-drive vehicles after the snow started falling.
Most residents in the county apparently heeded warnings to stay home overnight. The overnight period was uneventful, dispatchers said.
"A lot of the roads are in pretty bad shape," sheriff's Lt. David Beverly said this morning. "All the roads are pretty slick. You just want to use caution."
After taking a flurry of calls about disabled vehicles and minor wrecks on Thursday afternoon, dispatchers at the Greene County 911 Center said things quieted down after 11 p.m. Thursday.
"I don't think we've had any calls relating to the weather. I think most people stayed inside tonight," dispatcher Seth Spradlin said about 6 a.m. today.
Lyle Wilson, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Morristown, said Greene County residents should see sunny skies and slightly warmer temperatures today -- a sharp difference from the past several days.
"It is not all that unusual to get warm weather followed by periods of rain," Wilson said of normal January weather. "[But] certainly to have record warmth followed by flooding, followed by snow -- that is unusual."
The National Weather Service is forecasting only a slim chance of rain from today through Tuesday.
Saturday's high temperature is forecast to be 50 degrees, with a high of 44 degrees on Sunday.
Contributing to this report: Kristen Buckles, O.J. Early, Sarah Gregory, Ken Little, Velma Southerland and John M. Jones Jr.