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Despite near-record lows, hazardous weather preparations go largely unneeded

Posted on Thursday, January 9, 2014 at 2:00 pm

Most of southern Middle Tennessee was able to avoid the recent winter weather with just a dusting of snow. (MCN Photo by Robert Holman)

Most of southern Middle Tennessee was able to avoid the recent winter weather with just a dusting of snow. (MCN Photo by Robert Holman)

LYNCHBURG — Preparations for power outages and stranded travelers were largely unneeded as Tennessee made it through the worst of the arctic freeze without major incidents this week.

Many people stayed home as bitter cold and sub-zero wind chills forced the closure of everything from schools, to senior centers to Goodwill donation trailers in Tennessee. Even the slopes at Ober Gatlinburg closed early Monday night. The winter weather caused the cancellation of flights and delays of more than three hours at airports in Nashville and Memphis on Sunday.

Although demand for power taxed the electrical grid, with the Tennessee Valley Authority reporting near-record winter power demand in preliminary figures, most of the state avoided power outages.

Tennessee cancelled its state of emergency on Monday afternoon, despite predictions that the sub-zero wind chills would continue into Tuesday.

The combination of cold weather and light precipitation forced school closings, bumped up electricity usage and kept Tennessee Department of Transportation workers busy. (MCN Photo by Robert Holman)

The combination of cold weather and light precipitation forced school closings, bumped up electricity usage and kept Tennessee Department of Transportation workers busy. (MCN Photo by Robert Holman)

Tennessee Emergency Management Agency spokesman Jeremy Heidt said the agency had been working with the Red Cross, which had 21 shelters on standby, in advance of the cold front. There were also four-wheel-drive vehicles equipped with blankets and other necessities at the ready to rescue travelers stranded on the state’s highways and interstates.

All that proved to be unnecessary, as the roads remained mostly clear thanks to little precipitation and preparation by the Tennessee Department of Transportation. Spokeswoman Deanna Lambert said the department prepared the roads with brine in advance of the bad weather and then hit them again with salt beginning on Sunday night.

Moore County schools remained closed on Wednesday, with Director of Schools Chad Moorehead citing the cold weather and potentially hazardous road conditions on several of the county’s back roads as the primary reason.

The near-record temperatures and predictions of snow sent people scurrying to the grocery store as well. An employee at Woodard’s Market, where the bread isle was pretty barren on Monday evening, said traffic at the store was probably at its peak on Sunday, when locals were preparing for the winter chill.

With travel not an issue, however, by Tuesday the store’s shelves were well stocked with the necessary food staples.

By Wednesday, temperatures in Lynchburg were on the rise, though they were still a bit below normal. According to Gene Johnson at the Lynchburg Water Treatment plant, Tuesday’s low here was 0 degrees.

Kris White, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Huntsville, Ala., said the station there has been keeping records for Lynchburg since 1999. Tuesday’s low of 0 degrees was the lowest on record in that 16-year span, besting a low of 7 degrees on Jan. 7, 2010.

“The normal low temperature for this time of year is 28 degrees and the normal high is 47 degrees,” said National Weather Service meteorologist Mark Rose, who works in the Nashville office. “For the next week it’s going to be a fairly mild week. That’s as far as the forecast goes out.”

By Thursday, the National Weather Service predicted temperatures to be back in the upper 40s, with an overnight low of 34 degrees. Friday’s high is expected to be in the mid-50s.

That’s a welcome change for an area that’s not used to the sort of low temps experienced earlier this week. According to National Weather Service, the record low in Franklin County for Jan. 6 is 4 degrees. The record low for Jan. 7 is 0 degrees.

A TDOT truck works to keep Majors Blvd. in Lynchburg clear on Monday afternoon. (MCN Photo by Robert Holman)

A TDOT truck works to keep Majors Blvd. in Lynchburg clear on Monday afternoon. (MCN Photo by Robert Holman)

Rose added, however, that the National Weather Service records in Nashville only go back some 29 years to 1985. The all-time low in Tullahoma, meanwhile, is minus 22 degrees. The mark was set on Feb. 14, 1905. Rose said there were no records on file for Moore County in the Nashville office.

The Tennessee Valley Authority said preliminary figures showed demand for power at 8 a.m. on Tuesday reached the second highest winter peak in TVA history at 32,460 megawatts. At that time, the average temperature was 4 degrees across the TVA region — which covers almost all of Tennessee and part of six surrounding states. Tuesday’s peak is 112 megawatts less than the record winter demand set on Jan. 16, 2009, when temperatures averaged 9 degrees.

The utility had asked local power companies to try to reduce power usage, but by late morning, demand was decreasing. A TVA spokesman said the utility is no longer requesting conservation measures from customers.

“We appreciate all the efforts by our local power companies to reduce voltage, along with any appeals for power conservation locally during the heaviest demands period Tuesday morning,” said the TVA spokesman.

Rose said that while there is a slight warming on the way, the area could see another wave of arctic air by month’s end.

“It looks like toward the end of January we could be setting up for another cold blast, but that’s really beyond our forecast,” he said.

—From staff and wire reports

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