'Big deal' snow forecast triggers Chattanooga area school closings

'Big deal' snow forecast triggers Chattanooga area school closings

February 11th, 2014 by Tim Omarzu , Louie Brogdon in Local Regional News

THE LATEST UPDATES

Hamilton County General Sessions Courts are open today.

Georgia Department of Labor career centers in Blue Ridge, Cartersville, Dalton, LaFayette, and Rome will open at 10 a.m. today. The delayed openings are due to winter weather conditions.

All roads in Jackson County are slick and snow covered. The state has not officially closed any roads but people are urged to stay home unless it is an emergency. Numerous accidents have been related to the weather. If you must drive, use extreme caution.

North Georgia health district and all county health departments are closed today.

Jackson County, Ala., authorities report that Alabama State Troopers have closed Alabama Highway 40 on Sand Mountain.

The Jackson County Courthouse in Scottsboro, Ala., is closed for the day due to hazardous driving conditions, according to the county Emergency Management Agency.

The DeKalb County Courthouse in Fort Payne, Ala., and all government offices are closed today due to weather, according to the DeKalb County Emergency Management Agency. The county road department reports that all roads "are still extremely dangerous and roads are considered impassable. Travel is not recommended," a post on the EMA Facebook page states.

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SCHOOL DELAYS AND CLOSINGS

• All campuses of Georgia Northwestern Technical College are closed today.

• Bradley County schools are closed today.

• Catoosa County schools are closed today.

• Cleveland City schools are closed today.

• Chattooga County Schools are closed today.

• Chickamauga City Schools are closed today.

• Dade County schools are closed today and Wednesday.

• Dalton Public Schools are closed today.

• Fort Payne, Ala., schools are closed today.

• Gordon County Schools and Calhoun City Schools are closed today and Wednesday.

• Hamilton County schools are closed today. Central Office and employees who accrue vacation are to report by 10 a.m. Maintenance employees are to report at regular time.

• Jackson County, Ala., schools are closed today.

• Murray County Schools are closed today.

• Trion City Schools are closed today.

• UTC will delay opening until 10 a.m. today.

• Walker County schools are closed today.

• Whitfield County Schools are closed today.

For additional school and business delays and closings, visit our news partner wrcbtv.com.

A TDOT truck sprays the road Monday in preparation for inclement weather predicted to hit the Tennessee Valley area over the next two days.

Photo by Dan Henry/Times Free Press.

STATE OF EMERGENCY, GEORGIA

Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal has declared a state of emergency for: Dade, Walker, Catoosa, Whitfield, Chattooga, Gordon, Floyd, Bartow, Polk, Paulding, Cobb, Fulton, Gwinnett, Barrow, Haralson, Carroll, Douglas, DeKalb, Clarke, Oconee, Oglethorpe, Wilkes, Walton, Rabun, Habersham, Stephens, Franklin, Hart, Madison, Elbert, Lincoln, Murray, Fannin, Gilmer, Union, Towns, Pickens, Dawson, Lumpkin, White, Cherokee, Forsyth, Hall, Banks and Jackson counties.

Counties under a state of emergency do not necessarily have school canceled unless announced by the school system.

STATE OF EMERGENCY, ALABAMA

Gov. Robert Bentley is issuing a statewide state of emergency in advance of dangerous winter weather that's forecast to hit the state.

The state of emergency begins at 6 a.m. today.

Bentley says the state is taking no chances as the winter weather nears the state.

The governor says he is urging schools to close if they are in an area predicted to have snow and ice accumulations. He is urging people to be cautious and avoid all unnecessary travel.

Bentley says a wrecker unit of the Alabama National Guard is on standby with crews positions throughout north Alabama.

The governor says the state's emergency operations center has been activated to handle response to the storm.

Hamilton County Emergency Services Winter Weather Note

Hamilton County, TN - Hamilton County Emergency Services continues to monitor the National Weather Service's forecasts for the next couple of days. Currently, the NWS is predicting the winter weather to arrive in Hamilton County early today with a projected accumulation up to one inch.

NWS is also calling for a more serious winter weather event for Wednesday near daybreak. NWS is advising a potential accumulation of 2-4 inches in the valley and 4-6 inches on the mountains.

Four-wheel-drive vehicles - including former military Humvees - hauled stranded school children home in Dade County, Ga., during the paralyzing snowstorm on Jan. 28, because school buses couldn't handle the roads.

This time around, Dade County Schools officials weren't taking any chances. On Monday afternoon, they canceled classes today and Wednesday.

Still smarting from the surprise snowstorm that caused chaos in North Georgia, the Chattanooga area and much of the Southeast two weeks ago, school officials around the region -- including those in Hamilton County -- erred on the side of caution and canceled classes.

Those decisions were bolstered by a National Weather Service warning for Northwest Georgia. One to 3 inches of snow was predicted to fall last night, with 2 to 4 more inches expected tonight, said Keith Stellman, meteorologist-in-charge of the service's Peachtree City office.

"It's a big deal," Stellman said Monday afternoon."We're really ramping this one up."

Chattanooga was under a winter weather storm advisory Monday with light snowfall of up to an inch expected by 7 a.m. today -- and as much as 3 inches at higher elevations. Tonight, light rain was predicted to turn to snow with 1 to 4 inches expected in the valleys and 4 to 8 inches along the mountains before Thursday morning.

Hamilton County Emergency Services spokeswoman Amy Maxwell said the county is monitoring weather forecasts but did not expect to activate the Emergency Operation Center immediately.

"We will possibly open it Wednesday, when the next snow is expected," she said.

The Hamilton County Highway Department brined roads Friday in anticipation of chilly weather, as it had last month, according to county spokesman Mike Dunne. And Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke's spokeswoman, Lacie Stone, said this time the city will be ready for snow "at a moment's notice."

Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal declared a state of emergency on Monday far ahead of the storm -- something he didn't do two weeks ago -- giving him a second chance to prove the state could prepare for winter weather.

Deal was widely criticized and Georgia became the brunt of late-night jokes for the response to the Jan. 28 storm that paralyzed the metro Atlanta area after two inches of snow fell. Drivers spent the night in frigid cars, students slept in school buses and thousands of cars were abandoned along highways. Officials reported one accident-related death.

Coming from the Gulf

Just like the blizzard of 1993 that buried Chattanooga in almost 2 feet of snow, this storm is headed here from the Gulf of Mexico where it picks up moisture, said Chattanooga WRCB-TV chief meteorologist Paul Barys.

"That's where we get our big snows," Barys said. "This thing will form south of us and move north and east."

But Barys wasn't sure at 4 p.m. Monday whether Chattanooga would have much snow today.

On Monday afternoon, the storm was still "in the minds of computers. It hasn't formed, yet," he said. "I think the main event is going to be [tonight] and into Wednesday."

County road departments in Northwest Georgia had their trucks ready to brine, salt and plow the roads.

"We'll probably put some brine down and salt and sand some of the bridges," Buster Brown, department head of the Catoosa County Road Department, said Monday afternoon. "We're trying to be proactive."

Walker County coordinator David Ashburn said, "Our position is we try to be as prepared as possible."

Because of the interest in the impending storm, Jason Denizac created www.isitsnowinginchattanooga.com as an ad hoc website to let people know the city's status. The one-sentence web page read "sort of, but not sticking" early in the day and "no" when the sun shone around 5 p.m.

"I created the page because the question of snow is in the front of everyone's minds, especially given the disruption caused by the snow two weeks ago" said Denizac, a web developer with a nonprofit group called Code for America that is working with the city of Chattanooga to find ways to use technology more effectively to improve civic engagement.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Contact staff writer Tim Omarzu at tomarzu@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6651.