It's no blizzard of '93, but a winter storm is expected to drop high temperatures by 30 degrees, deliver 1 to 3 inches of snow in the Tennessee Valley overnight and produce gusty winds Saturday.
"Welcome to March," meteorologist Cedric Haynes said Friday during a midday newscast on WRCB Local 3 News, comparing the weekend forecast to a "roller-coaster ride."
The National Weather Service has issued a winter storm warning for midnight Friday to 10 a.m. Saturday, Eastern time. Advisories affect portions of Middle and East Tennessee, northern Alabama and Northwest Georgia.
Ellis Smith, director of special projects for the city of Chattanooga, said municipal road crews are on alert, but pretreating roadways may not be practical if, as forecast, the precipitation transitions to snow from rain, which would dilute or wash away the brine solution.
"The nature of the storm looks to be the kind we like the least — the precipitation comes down, then freezes, then it snows on top of that," he said by phone Friday.
Earlier this week, River City Co. postponed Family Fun Day, a Saturday morning Rock the Riverfront activity, by a week because of the weather, but other events are expected to take place as scheduled Saturday. This is opening weekend for Shamrock City at Rock City. Brew Skies, a beer festival, will go on as planned at AT&T Field.
"It was going to be on the field, but instead we're moving it into the concourse," Dawn Hjelseth, a member of the sponsoring Chattanooga Breakfast Rotary Club, said in a phone interview. "That way the walls will block some of the wind, and we'll have heaters throughout. We're encouraging everyone to come bundled up."
CHI Memorial's Pink Gala, which was postponed from January because of COVID-19, will take place Saturday evening in First Horizon Pavilion. In addition to 40 heaters and a donation of HotHands warmers, organizers have wrapped the open-air pavilion in a heavy-duty tenting material for the black-tie event, which raises money for the MaryEllen Locher Breast Center of Excellence.
"You don't get to wear a fur coat in Chattanooga very often, but this is a chance to do it," Jennifer Nicely, president of the CHI Memorial Foundation, said by phone.
Friday delivered a projected high of 64 degrees in Chattanooga. Saturday's high is expected to be 34, with winds gusting from 30 to 45 mph throughout the day, making the outside temperature feel more like teens to low 20s, Haynes said.
The overnight snow accumulation is expected to range from 1 to 3 inches in the valley and up to 5 to 6 inches in higher elevations around Chattanooga, he said. The snow combined with the blustery winds may greatly reduce visibility at times. Sporadic power outages are possible because of the wind and weight of snow on power lines.
"Everyone has the potential to see winter weather impacts," Haynes said.
Evangelon Faith James, agriculture and natural resources agent for Bradley County's University of Tennessee Extension office, said little can be done to protect flowers, trees and shrubs already in bloom. In a phone interview, she suggested bringing plants in pots indoors and covering ground plants with sheets or shade cloths to try to protect them from the extreme cold.
"When it gets to these low temperatures, that might not be the full-on answer," she said, "but it's better to try than to leave them out where they're susceptible."
The timing of the winter storm system, the second weekend of March, is reminiscent of the blizzard that blanketed the Tennessee Valley with 2 feet of snow the weekend of March 12-13, 1993. Twenty-nine years later, those memories are still vivid for retired WRCB meteorologist Paul Barys.
For a week, the '70s-era computer models he had at the time indicated the possibility of 20 to 30 inches of snow in Chattanooga, he said in a phone conversation Friday. Because it seemed so improbable, he halved the inch estimate for his on-air forecast, but warned, "This is going to be the worst snowstorm in the history of Chattanooga."
Once it hit, "people thought it was the end times," he recalled. "We had thundersnow. The wind was howling. It was an apocalypse scenario. This town had never seen anything like that."
Spring officially arrives March 20. The last frost risk in the Chattanooga area is April 17.
Contact Lisa Denton at email@example.com or 423-757-6281.