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Wintry mix bedevils drivers, prompts closings

Wes Bunch • Jan 25, 2013 at 7:36 AM

KINGSPORT — A mixture of rain, sleet and snow hit Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia on Friday, with icy road conditions resulting in numerous wrecks and the closure of local schools and government offices.

A low-pressure system caused anywhere from to inch of ice to fall on the region Friday morning. As the day progressed, temperatures hovering around the freezing point caused the precipitation to alternate between sleet and snow and rain.

The National Weather Service in Morristown expected the precipitation to trail off by late Friday, although sleet and freezing rain were still being reported in some parts of the area during the afternoon.

Although conditions on primary routes in many areas throughout the region had improved by varying degrees Friday evening, roads were expected become icy again overnight due to below-freezing temperatures.

An ice storm warning remained in effect in Hawkins County and in Lee County, Va. until 7 p.m. Friday.

Officials with the Tennessee Department of Transportation said all of Division 1, which includes 24 East Tennessee counties, had been treated for icy road conditions as of Friday afternoon. TDOT crews were expected to continue monitoring, and treating, interstates, bridges and overpasses throughout the night.

In Southwest Virginia, a Virginia Department of Transportation spokeswoman said most secondary routes — those numbered 600 and under — remained snow-covered and slick Friday evening.

Most routes in Scott County were still snow-covered and slick as of Friday evening, while VDOT advised motorists on primary routes in Lee and Wise counties to be alert to slushy, slick conditions there.

The conditions in Virginia were mainly caused by the freezing rain and snow that hit Friday morning.

Harmon Kilgore, a maintenance operations manager at the Virginia Department of Transportation’s Wise Residency office, said just before noon Friday that conditions were at the “moderate” level, which was hazardous enough at that time.

“We’re pretty much covered out there with ice and slush,” he said. “We got some salt down beforehand which was great, so it started slushing up. Right now we’ve got it where you can travel, but I wouldn’t advise anybody getting out without 4-wheel-drive and snow tires or chains right now.”

U.S. Route 23 through Wise County featured one lane slushy and the other icy, he said. Most of U.S. 23 in Scott County was also covered with slush and ice throughout the day and into the evening.

“One thing we’re hoping for is for this thing to be a fast mover and be out of here before tonight and we can get a grip on it,” Kilgore said.

While conditions in Tennessee had improved by the afternoon, the ice-covered roads led to numerous accidents Friday morning in and around Kingsport.

Shortly before 9 a.m., scanner traffic indicated there were “sheets of ice” on John B. Dennis Highway and heavy icing on West Carter Valley Road. At the entrance ramp from Fort Henry Drive to John B. Dennis, a vehicle had exited the roadway, rolled over and entrapped the driver. It also knocked down a power pole.

Hawkins County, which was under an ice-storm warning longer than other localities in the region, also reported accumulations of ice and slush along its primary and secondary routes.

In addition to making driving conditions worse, the winter weather also led to the cancellation of classes and the closing of town, city and county government offices.

School systems in both Sullivan and Hawkins counties called off class pre-emptively Thursday evening, while other area systems — like Kingsport, Scott County, Wise County and others — closed after initially going on a two-hour delay.

SAT testing was also impacted, with Dobyns-Bennett High School moving Saturday’s test to Feb. 16.

Along with closing the schools, the icy weather caused the cancellation and postponement of dozens of high school boys and girls high school basketball games that had been scheduled throughout the region Friday night.Games for all Sullivan County high school teams were cancelled, with most of them being rescheduled for later dates, as were all games for high schools in Southwest Virginia. While rescheduled dates for many games have already been announced, several schools still have to determine makeup times.

Times-News staff writers Rain Smith and Stephen Igo contributed to this report.

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