Winter set to wallop area again

By Thomas Wilson

   After a mild winter last season, Mother Nature is playing catch-up.
   On Wednesday, the National Weather Service issued a heavy snow warning through 7 p.m. tonight for East Tennessee and Southwest Virginia with wind chills expected to dip from 5 to 20 degrees below zero.
   "It is going to be bitter cold," said Mike Propst, a forecaster with the weather service in Morristown. "Any type wind is going to produce a wind chill advisory."
   Forecasters tentatively projected the region's low lying areas could receive 3 to 6 inches of snow through this evening. The region's higher elevations could see total accumulations between 4 to 8 inches by tonight, according to the NWS forecast.
   Temperatures are forecasted to drop into the single digits by early this evening.
   A wind advisory and wind chill advisory was posted for most Northeast Tennessee counties on Wednesday night running through tonight. Weather forecasters expected to see northwest winds at 20 to 30 miles per hour with gusts up to 45 miles per hour.
   The latest round of inclement weather comes one week after a winter storm dropped several inches of snow on southern Appalachia.
   Carter County's superintendent of roads, Jack Perkins, had stocked large amounts of chat rock ready to distribute over the county's roads once snow begins falling. He also said the department had already been far busier through the 2003 winter than last year.
   "That's way more than we put out last year," he said. "Last winter was light," said Perkins. "We've got 13 trucks and seven small plows ready to go, and we got both buildings full of chat."
   The "chat" Perkins speaks of is small rock roughly three-eighths of one inch in size that provides traction on snow-covered roadways.
   He also said last year's delay in finalizing the county budget did not hinder his department's ability to buy chat product for the winter. He said that highway crews frequently hit the county's higher elevations where winter precipitation hit fast and high during a snow event.
   "You think there's nothing on the roads until you get higher up," said Perkins. "When you get up above 2,500 or 3,000 feet that's when you'll get it."
   The highway department maintains over 850 miles of county roads.
   Despite budget cuts for the current fiscal year, the city of Elizabethton is stocked with salt supplies to slow hazardous road conditions.
   "That isn't an area we scrimp on," said Ted Leger, director of public works for the city.
   Public works crews use salt on city streets to ward off potential highway hazards. Bridges, which are typically more dangerous than asphalt roads, are coated with a special chemical to impede icing.
   "We use a chemical seal on the bridges," said Leger. "It is supposed to break up the snow as it falls and raise the temperature if possible."
   Carter County school system's calendar lists May 22 as the last day of the current school year. However, superintendent, Dallas Williams said last week that date could change if the system extends the school year to make up for snow days.
   "The last two years, we were short on those days because we've had mild winters," he said. "We've been fortunate not to use all the days."