Live updates and closings: Surprise snowstorm paralyzes Chattanooga

RELATED STORY Early school dismissal aggravated gridlock in snowy Chattanooga area

Courts that will be open Hamilton County General Sessions Courts, Civil and Criminal will be open Thursday, Jan. 30, 2013, at regular times.

Memorial Health Care System openings, closings and delays Because of inclement weather Memorial Health Care System will observe the following openings, closings and delays. The Inclement Weather Policy has been lifted. Associates are expected to report to work as scheduled. Associates may call their Director for questions. The Chattanooga Heart Institute will remained closed at all locations. Cardiac rehabilitation will remain closed at all locations. Physical Therapy and Sleep will be open. The Wound Center will open at 10 a.m. Patients are encouraged to call ahead to confirm physician appointments.

Delayed Opening Dalton-Whitfield County Landfill and Convenience Centers (transfer stations) will open late, 9:00 am., Thursday, Jan. 30th.


Athens City Schools will be closed. Baylor School will be closed. Bledsoe County Schools will be closed. Bradley County Schools will be closed. Catoosa County Schools will be closed. Chattooga County Schools will be closed. Chickamauga City Schools will be closed, Cleveland City Schools will be closed. Dade County Schools will be closed. Hamilton County Schools will be closed. Marion County Schools will be closed. McCallie School Schools will be closed. McMinn County Schools will be closed. Meigs County Schools will be closed. Notre Dame will be closed. Polk County Schools will be closed. Rhea County Schools will be closed. Richard Hardy Memorial School will be closed. Sequatchie County Schools will be closed. Whitfield County Schools will be closed. Some school closings shared from our news partners at WRCB.

North Georgia health office, health departments closing, delays Cherokee, Gilmer and Pickens County Health Departments will be closed Thursday, Jan. 30, 2014. Fannin, Murray, Whitfield health departments will be delay opening until 12 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 30, 2014.

TODAY'S CLOSINGS AND DELAYS Schools Canceled Athens City Bradley County Calhoun, Ga. Catoosa County Chattanooga Catholic schools Chattanooga State Technical Community College Cleveland City Cleveland State Dade County Dalton Schools DeKalb County, Ala. Gordon County Hamilton County Jackson County, Ala. Marion County McCallie School McMinn County Meigs County Murray County All campuses of Georgia Northwestern Technical College Polk County Rhea County Southern Adventist University UTC Walker County Whitfield County Shopping Hamilton Place mall and Northgate Mall will open at noon. Other Chattanooga City Court will be closed. Chattanooga Court Clerk's Office will be closed Georgia government offices open at noon Hamilton County Courthouse is open, commission agenda session canceled Hamilton County General Sessions Court, both civil and criminal divisions, will be closed. Hamilton County Juvenile Court closed. Walker County offices closed except essential services.

Call it the inch of snow that started an avalanche.

Most weather forecasters did not foresee the snow that would fall across the Chattanooga region starting late Tuesday morning -- light, powdery and ultimately, treacherous.

The relatively small snowfall mixed with just the right freezing conditions to deliver a freakish day of chaos across a region caught wholly unprepared.

Slippery roads and surface streets led to scores of accidents, and schools were dismissed early just as road crews were trying to get the upper hand on the icy, snow-covered roads. Gridlock set in in downtown Chattanooga, and as the day wore on, many children remained stuck at schools into the evening in a situation school officials called unprecedented.

This morning, roads are still expected to be treacherous in places, and another blast of arctic cold was forecast to bring the low temperature to around 10 degrees.

But Tuesday was all about the snow.

Ambulances and first responders inched through nearly impassable roads to reach those in need -- in one case, taking an hour to reach a Big Ridge woman with a broken leg.

And over office conversations, harried traffic-jam phone calls and social media outbursts, one question kept reverberating: How had it all gotten so bad, so fast?

"Everything is just an absolute mess," Hamilton County Emergency Services spokeswoman Amy Maxwell said Tuesday afternoon. "People are trying to get home, people are trying to get to their kids. All these busy roadways are just at a standstill. It's just one, huge mess."

The agency activated its Emergency Operations Center late Tuesday afternoon in response to the large number of accidents.

The slight precipitation snowballed into one of the worst wintry messes in recent memory thanks to a number of compounding factors, officials said Tuesday.

It started with a faulty forecast.

Most forecasters, including the National Weather Service and local meteorologists, had only predicted snowfall farther south, and just flurries below the Dalton area.

Computer models studied by meteorologists did not account for the strength of the jet stream or how rapidly the atmosphere would moisten up, they said. Though it was just a light snowfall, it did not melt.

On Tuesday evening, longtime WRCB-TV meteorologist Paul Barys said he was performing a "post-mortem" of his prediction.

"I'm the first guy to know that I blew it. But I am not a psychic," he said. "This was just not what we were seeing in the forecast models yesterday."

Barys was not the only one. Because the National Weather Service did not put out a winter advisory, the Tennessee Department of Transportation and local road crews did not brine or salt the roads in preparation for potential snowfall.

"The last thing we heard last night was that there may be a few snow flurries," Chattanooga Public Works Director Lee Norris said Tuesday. "We got our first inclement weather briefing from the National Weather Service this morning. That's the first time we've gotten a briefing after an event has already started."

The missed predictions might have been more forgiving if the ground had not been so frozen and the snow so dry.

As tires tread over the powdery accumulation of half an inch to 1.5 inches, depending on location, the snow compacted -- creating a slippery coat over roads and highways. From there, the situation only worsened.

One by one, businesses and government agencies began to close, sending workers home early.

Schools began efforts to dismiss students around midmorning -- flooding already-clogged streets with parents and buses.

"It has been truly terrible timing," said Maxwell. "Parents are unable to get to their kids. Kids are unable to get to their parents. The school system has let us know that the buses are not going to run anymore. There are kids just sitting and waiting at schools, and parents stuck in gridlock."

Chattanooga police reported 132 traffic accidents by 3 p.m., and towing services were reporting four-hour wait times.

"It has taken me over an hour to make it from Chattanooga State to the point where I am under the bridge to Highway 153," said Brad Stevens, a student at the community college, which dismissed early Tuesday. "I'm looking at 1, 2, 3, 4 cars that slid off the hill."

Sgt. Gary Martin with the Chattanooga Police Department's traffic division said the congestion coming out of town was "unreal."

"There are cars all over this city in ditches right now. If there's serious injuries, we're going to them, but if there's not injuries we have to move on," Martin said. "As long as it's not a traffic hazard we're going to have to come back and get them later. Maybe not until Wednesday."

The accidents meant it became tougher for trucks with plows and salt to get to secondary roads, furthering a hazardous cycle, said Tennessee Department of Transportation spokeswoman Jennifer Flynn.

Aggravating matters, a spike in call volume on cellphones clogged networks, meaning many people could not reach loved ones, schools or emergency services.

Verizon officials urged Chattanooga-area cellphone users to send text messages until volume levels normalized, and said they were continuing to monitor the network.

The pain from the snowfall was felt throughout the region.

In Dade County, Ga., where schools also released students early, roads Tuesday afternoon were slick and accidents had been reported "all over the county," very busy dispatchers said.

Officials in the Sequatchie Valley's counties said Tuesday's snow caught everybody by surprise. Marion and Sequatchie officials also said there was no brine put down on the roads until Tuesday morning.

Marion County Road Superintendent Neil Webb said state Highway 134 was very slick around noon and parents were being asked to meet buses at the highway to keep them from having to climb the slicker mountain roads.

"We've got all our equipment out, but we can't plow because it's too thin," Webb said of snow cover on the pavement.

Webb said he was worried about conditions worsening overnight when temperatures drop into the teens and lower.

"Salt doesn't work well below 18 degrees or so," he said.

The temperatures were supposed to plunge to 10 degrees overnight, and likely not budge above freezing today, Barys said. Meteorologists warned about the slush freezing into ice as the sun descended Tuesday, then turn to black ice.

This morning "is definitely going to be pretty icy in spots," said National Weather Service meteorologist David Hotz from Morristown, Tenn. "There will be some treacherous roads."

Most schools in the region, including Hamilton County, announced they would be closed today -- as they were still struggling to get students safely home Tuesday.

photo Vehicles are stuck on the snow-covered Dallas Road in front of Chattanooga High School Center for Creative Arts.


The lack of preparation came in stark contrast to the first week of January, when crews began prepping roads 48 hours in advance and schools began closing the day before in anticipation of extreme cold and potential snowfall.

Local road officials, including TDOT, said they check multiple weather services to prepare for hazardous road conditions. On Monday, there seemed no reason to worry.

Maxwell said there was no initiative to coordinate response efforts ahead of time simply because no forecasts were predicting the kind of conditions Chattanooga experienced.

"We could have been notified a little better with the weather," she said. "I'm not a meteorologist, so I don't know what could have been seen or unseen."

From Morristown, Tenn., Hotz said the computer models the forecasters study are updated as information comes in, and monitored 24 hours a day.

"Yesterday's forecast put out a chance of seeing some snow showers in certain areas, but the models we looked at weren't like we were seeing anything today," said Hotz.

The service's first winter weather advisory did not come out until 4 a.m., and was updated at 10 a.m.

The ground temperature is also much colder than typical for this time of year, Hotz said. On all but five days this January, temperatures have dipped -- or remained -- below freezing.

News Channel 9 meteorologist David Glenn warned in his forecast on Monday evening that the system was a tricky one, and that viewers needed to keep an eye on it.

The forecast models were not showing early on how much moisture was coming into the area, he said, but he led Monday's newscast with concerns of cold and possible accumulation in some areas.

"My concern was that we're going to be below freezing all day long. Any flake that falls is not going to melt," he said Tuesday. "The concern there is a traffic hazard, not an accumulation issue."

Barys, who also noted the lack of moisture in the forecast models, said he wished his predictions had been even slightly more ominous -- even calling for just a half-inch to an inch more of snow.

"Really, there was not much else I feel we could have done," he said. "We misjudged the extent of where this was coming from."

Staff writer Kevin Hardy contributed to this report.

Contact staff writer Kate Harrison at or 423-757-6673.

Contact staff writer Ben Benton at or 423-757- 6569.