Weathering another downpour
The latest round of heavy rain Wednesday led to widespread flooding in Sevier County.
The downpour in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park forced park officials to close Newfound Gap Road at the Gatlinburg entrance due to flooding and debris in the road, as well as Cades Cove due to high water and washouts.
Gatlinburg firefighters and police were warning people Wednesday afternoon to move their cars off River Road in downtown Gatlinburg as the West Prong of the Little Pigeon River threatened to come out of its banks.
“We kind of avoided a major disaster because it was kind of hitting the bridges but never go over them,” Gatlinburg Fire Chief Greg Miller said.
The city opened an emergency operations center and stationed emergency responders on both sides of the bridges so they could respond promptly to calls, but it appeared that wouldn’t be an issue by about 4:25 p.m., as water levels started to subside. They had voluntary evacuations of some low lying areas that are prone to flooding, but Miller said it didn’t’ appear they were going to have serious issues there, either.
He said it looked like heavy rains in the mountains caused the high waters.
“As long as we can have a a slow, steady rain and not two inches an hour the streams can handle it,” he said.
The National Weather Service reported more than 2.5 inches of rain fell in the Knoxville area as of 5 p.m. Wednesday, with the forecast calling for continued showers.
In Pigeon Forge, the primary school closed about an hour ahead of its normal schedule but Police Chief Jack Baldwin said the city hadn’t seen any major issues as of about 4 p.m.
“My guess is they’re probably doing preventive things more than mandatory (at the school),” he said.
Sevierville Police Department was urging drivers to use caution around Trula Lawson Learning Center Road on Eastgate Road due to standing water and reported standing water on Park Road, Burden Hill Road and Lonesome Valley Road.
“We’ll be keeping our eyes on those areas and a couple others throughout the evening,” spokesman Bob Stahlke said.
In the county, high water closed a number of roads including River Divide, Kellum Creek, Hatties’ Branch, Crossover, Indian Gap and Gists Creek roads, superintendent Jonas Smelcer said.
We’ll go back and remove the barricades probably in the morning (Thursday),” he said.
Residents could be waking up to snow, as the National Weather Service forecast called for the precipitation to change as temperatures dropped overnight. They were not expecting any accumulation in lower elevations and called for 1 to 2 inches in higher elevations.