February 13, 2014

Blue skies and sunshine, but watch out for black ice

Misty Watson

— Northwest Georgia received some of the highest snowfall amounts across the state with the winter storm that passed through this week, according to information from the National Weather Service.

Whitfield and Murray counties reported anywhere from 2 to 6 inches of snow in addition to the 2 to 4 inches reported earlier in the week while Ringgold reported approximately 11 inches  of snow.

But as skies cleared, the sun shone and temperatures rose toward the lower 40s on Thursday afternoon, much of that snow that blanketed the area around daybreak began to melt. The snow and ice weighing down power lines and tree limbs began to fall in large clumps around 10 a.m. Thursday. And the roads that had been plowed and/or treated overnight Wednesday went from slick and icy to slushy to nearly dry in areas by just after noon.

Secondary roads still remained a problem throughout both counties, officials said.

The snow isn’t finished causing problems for travel, though. Today’s threat is black ice. Any moisture still lingering was expected to re-freeze Thursday night as temperatures dropped into the upper 20s. Officials in both counties urge people to drive with extreme caution this morning.

Claude Craig, director of the Whitfield County Emergency Management Agency, said there were no major problems overnight Wednesday, and he believes that’s due to a curfew put in place in the county between 9 p.m. Wednesday and 10 a.m. Thursday.

“Public works couldn’t work to clear the roads there were so many people out on the streets,” Craig said. “That was one of the reasons for invoking the curfew. ... The curfew was to protect citizens, not to tell anyone what to do. We don’t want our citizens becoming an emergency during the emergency event.”

Once the curfew went into effect, public works crews were able to do their job. They worked through the night clearing the main roads throughout Whitfield County, Craig said.

Secondary roads are expected to remain hazardous through this morning until temperatures rise above freezing, he said.

In Murray County, Sole Commissioner Brittany Pittman also said there were no major problems overnight Wednesday and into Thursday morning.

There was no curfew in place, but Pittman and other officials worked to warn people to stay off the roads.

“People were not on the roads, and that truly helped,” she said.

Crews with the county and the state Department of Transportation began clearing roads about 10 p.m. Wednesday, after the majority of the snow had fallen, Pittman said.

“We got crews out so the roads would be passable,” she said. “Safety is the biggest concern. That’s why they worked around the clock to make sure that was taken care of.”

Highway 52 across Fort Mountain has remained closed as the road is too dangerous for plows to cross, Pittman said.

Several power outages were reported throughout both counties. They were caused by trees and limbs which could not handle the weight of the snow and what little ice fell before the snow moved in.

“We worked quickly to get those trees cleaned up,” Pittman said. “We had some outages in the city, but most were back up within about an hour. ... We appreciate all the dedication and hard work crews did to get the roads cleared and the emergency workers. The utility crews were very responsive.”

Members of the National Guard stayed at fire stations in Whitfield County to help answer medical calls Wednesday night and Thursday morning, Craig said.

“This is one of the hardest storms I’ve been associated with because it came in essentially four different phases,” he said. “We had a lull yesterday and a lot of it melted. The National Weather Service told us it was going to start back, and when it did, it snowed and snowed and snowed.”

The area remains under a hazardous weather outlook for the next few days because of the threat of black ice.

Today the temperature should climb into the upper 40s, said Adam Baker, a forecaster with the National Weather Service in Peachtree City. There’s a 60 percent chance for rain in the afternoon and a 70 percent chance for rain tonight.

“At this point, it’s looking to just be rain,” Baker said. “So that’s the good news.”

This evening temperatures should drop into the lower 20s, meaning things could ice over again, he said. On Saturday, there should be sunny skies with a high in the upper 40s, he said.