Weather change leads to gridlock
by GREG KAYLOR Banner Staff Writer
Jan 29, 2014 | 2932 views | 0 0 comments | 17 17 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Banner photo, HOWARD PIERCE
KEVIN COFFEY fights snow in the face as he maneuvers a snow plow on the Lee University campus during Tuesday’s winter storm that forced schools and businesses to close early, leading to a gridlock on local roads.
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A major change in the weather dynamic began to occur in the South around 9:30 a.m. Tuesday, and its impact was felt for the rest of the day as emergency crews, school system leaders and businesses raced to respond ... and much of it came at about the same time.

The Cleveland and Bradley County community, as well as many other towns in the Southeast, faced an unforgiving gridlock, but a plan of action was put in place and officials worked together to get school children home safely, according to Cleveland/Bradley County Emergency Management Agency Director Troy Spence.

Temperatures dropped well below the freezing mark and far more snow began to fall than just the “flurries” that had been projected by Monday night and early Tuesday morning. Wind chill factors were also low as the humidity climbed.

“All of Bradley County and Cleveland City’s school children were home after 5 p.m.,” Spence said. “The last three students were being safely delivered to their homes by Bradley County Fire and Rescue personnel.”

Roadways were blocked with traffic as commuters attempted to reach their destinations. Factor in crashes and spots where ice wouldn’t allow traction and the result was at best ... chaotic, at times.

Areas where neighborhoods were built on ridges and hills were littered with vehicles parked by their owners, who went on foot to their homes.

The National Weather Service had not predicted an event in Bradley County nor elsewhere, according to Spence.

NWS officials had predicted an icy, snowy event would be further south in the Gulf of Mexico and eastward into Florida before slipping off the North and South Carolina coasts.

Area emergency agencies and Bradley and Cleveland schools representatives were all in attendance at a weather briefing with NWS meteorologist George Mathews early Tuesday.

Mathews said the dynamic had abruptly changed.

A stationary front to the east, one to the west, and a low-pressure system also to the east, allowed moisture from the Gulf to mix with dropping temperatures. A light snow began to fall which caused roadways to begin icing.

“A window of opportunity closed when this unpredicted event began,” Spence said regarding area schools’ dismissal.

“We discussed an appropriate plan and time with the directors of schools and had a plan in place to move students to their community schools for pick up. This would not clog the main roadways,” Spence explained.

Businesses began to close and concerned parents took to the roadways and streets.

“The street and roadway infrastructure was exceeded,” Spence said in reference to Bradley County’s total population and its accompanying number of motor vehicles.

But, approximately 16,000 city and county students made it home safely by day’s end, according to Spence.

“At no time was there any imminent danger. We weren’t in a tornado event and we had the time to be patient and be safe. All agencies, including Bradley County Road Department and Cleveland Public Works Department had to prepare their equipment and made sure main roadways were opened,” Spence said.

More than 100 crashes were reported, including one 17-vehicle pileup on Paul Huff Parkway near Adkisson Drive.

Cleveland Police Department is in charge of that investigation.

“There were no serious injuries reported in any of the crashes,” Spence said.

After 5 p.m., Spence said Bradley County 911 call volume decreased dramatically.

“Updates on conditions and what was being done were continually updated via Nixle and Facebook,” Spence said. “We used these outlets to provide clear information of what was going on and what we were doing.

“Roadways will improve this afternoon and it is possible that city and county schools will be dismissed once again Thursday,” Spence said.

According to Spence, no major power outages had been reported.

A low of 9 degrees is expected overnight into Thursday. Wind chills will also remain low, sometimes dipping into the negative numbers.

During the next few days of heating, which is expected Thursday, foggy conditions will be evident and temperatures Thursday night will be slightly warmer, but black ice could form due to the melting and fog.

A low of 5.9 degrees was recorded at Wacker today, with a wind chill of minus 3 degrees.

Snowfall amounts varied in areas of Bradley County.

Approximately three inches fell in parts of Charleston.

According to Curtis Cline, administrative officer at CBCEMA, the consensus was two to three inches were reported countywide.