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Early snow impacts higher elevations

Rain and snow along with strong winds were pushed into Unicoi County by Superstorm Sandy, which made land in Atlantic City, N.J. this past week.
Unicoi County Superintendent of Roads Terry Haynes said seeing snow in the south end of the county during October was a surprise this year, but has happened before.
“We’ve had snow in October, but nothing like this,” Haynes said. “I can remember back a few years ago, we had snow during the Apple Festival. We’ve never had this much accumulation in October that I can remember. It was really a surprise we got it as quick as we did and as much as we did in the higher elevations.”
The county’s salt resource did not see a large reduction, Haynes said, since the snow only fell in the higher elevations. “We pretty much stay equipped and ready to go,” Haynes said. “Our terrain is in the higher elevations.”
Out of Unicoi County’s 575 miles of road, Haynes said 50 miles needed to be serviced because of snow. Haynes said 80 tons of the county salt resource was used. “I try to keep anywhere from 1,100 to 1,200 tons of salt on hand,” Haynes said.
Haynes said the road department was able to act quickly to ensure the roads were safe for motorist. “The sheriff’s department always notifies us of what roads are getting slick,” Haynes said. “They are my eyes.”
Unicoi County Sheriff Mike Hensley said the sheriff’s department had chainsaws on hand and were prepared for the unusual weather.
“We’ve got all the deputies across the county who monitor not only county but state roads,” Hensley said. “We monitored it real close. We were prepared for it.”
Hensley said Sam’s Gap was closed on Tuesday night as well as roadways near Iron Mountain.
“It was just chaos up there,” Hensley said. “The tractor trailers were stuck and couldn’t get much traction. It was bad there for a while.” Hensley said he was unaware of any injuries or incidents that occurred in the county.
However, Hensley said there was a tractor trailer that jackknifed on the North Carolina side of Iron Mountain, which led to the road closure.
“Everyone worked together and everything went real well here in the county,” Hensley said. “This is the first time I can remember in several year that we had snow in October; especially this amount of snow in higher elevations.”
Hensley said higher elevations experienced white out conditions and he estimated wind gusts to be around 40-50 miles an hour. Hensley estimated Sam’s Gap received 4-5 inches of snow while he was on duty that night. “That’s when I was up there and there was probably more later,” Hensley said.
The snow also had an impact on the county educational system with school closures on Tuesday and Wednesday of last week said Unicoi County Board of Education Director Denise Brown. “Since I’ve been superintendent, I know we’ve never had to close schools this early in the school year before,” Brown said. “We have 10 snow days built in and we have used two of them.”
Brown said her residence in Flag Pond received about a foot of snow during the early evening of Oct. 30. “The storm was just so devastating to so many people up the coast,” Brown said. “When they first started to predict we would get 16 inches or more in the mountains, it was just inconceivable with the week before being such a beautiful week. I think it caught a lot of people off guard.”
Brown said it was interesting to see virtually no snow in the middle region of the county. “Fifteen miles away toward the south or if you went 15 miles to the north you had considerable amounts of snow,” Brown said. “So, this was just very unusual weather for us.”

By Kayla Carter
Staff Writer
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