Cleaning up from the storm
Road crews and other personnel got to work Thursday morning to clean up as Wednesday's flood waters started to subside, but they had to deal with ice that formed and snow that fell after temperatures dipped below freezing, along with the threat of more snow and ice overnight.
Newfound Gap Road was closed at the park entrance, and Little River Road in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park was closed due to flooding. Both reopened Thursday. With the National Weather Service calling for 1 to 4 inches of new snow in higher elevations Thursday night, park officials and others were keeping an eye out for new hazards. “That may result in more road closures,” park spokesperson Molly Schroer said.
The portion of Newfound Gap Road past the Newfound Gap overlook is still closed due to a landslide; traffic going to Cherokee, N.C., will have to use alternative routes until May at the earliest.
Forecasts as of Thursday afternoon called for snowfall of 1 to 2 inches in lower elevations as well, and local officials were already starting to treat roads as the newest storm system arrived.
“We’re trying to get ready for tonight, but we’re waiting to hear what the weather man says,” Sevier County Road Superintendent Jonas Smelcer said. He said most county roads reopened over the course of the day Thursday, although it wasn’t clear if Crossover Road remained closed.
Other local officials said they were also preparing for the possibility of new snow and ice by pretreating roads.
Rain gauges at the park illustrated how much the total rainfall varied Wednesday; at Newfound Gap a gauge recorded 5.03 inches of rainfall and at Mount LeConte they recorded 4.7 inches, while a maintenance area near Gatlinburg showed 2.57 inches.
But it was the rain in higher elevations that led to near floods in lower areas — especially downtown Gatlinburg, where firefighters were advising people to move cars from along River Road as the west prong of the Little Pigeon River was high enough to touch bridges alongside the road. Officials reported the water reached as high as 9.5 feet at the bridge near Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies.
Gatlinburg Fire Chief Greg Miller said they didn’t have a count for the rain that fell in Gatlinburg; the gauges normally used by his department were sent away for calibration. "January is not ordinarily a big rainfall month," he said.
However, he said roads were getting back to normal and he wasn’t aware of any ongoing issues Thursday.
Pigeon Forge didn’t report any major issues Wednesday.
Highway 416 was closed Wednesday in the Pittman Center area near the River Song Subdivision, but reopened Thursday.
Most roads in Sevierville reopened Thursday. City officials said the heavy rains also caused a sinkhole on Rivergate Road Wednesday, but public works personnel had the road open by the end of the day.
At the Sevierville Golf Club, a cart path on the River Course will need to be moved because of weather damage.
“Hole number four, that’s an island hole, in the past had an erosion issue on one of the banks,” said city spokesman Bob Stahlke. “The recent weather – the rain and the snow melt into the river – has increased that erosion to where the cart path will need to be moved further into the island.”
An irrigation pump also stopped working during the recent storm, Stahlke said. The golf course remains open.
(Staff Writer Kenneth Burns contributed to this story)