A winter storm that began with an icy mix before turning to snow forced schools and businesses to close in Tennessee and Kentucky. Hardest hit were western sections of both states.
Ice coated broad swaths of the South, causing traffic snarls. Memphis police responded to more than 100 crashes. In Mississippi, a tractor-trailer overturned after crashing on icy Interstate 55, causing traffic delays.
The system began in Tennessee as rain Friday morning. Roads were wet for the morning drive, but as cold air moved in, the rain switched to freezing rain and sleet making driving conditions treacherous.
Several crashes involving multiple vehicles closed westbound lanes of Interstate 40 in Henderson County. Some preliminary official reports stated as many as 16 semi trucks and eight vehicles were involved.
James A. Jones saw enough cars stranded along the icy highway to know it was time to pull over as a winter storm blasted parts of Tennessee and Kentucky with sleet, freezing rain and snow Friday.
Jones counted 25 cars stuck by the road as he drove from Memphis to McMinnville, Tennessee, about 280 miles away. He decided not to risk it any longer and took a break in the West Tennessee town of Parkers Crossroads.
“It’s rough riding,” he said. “If you was in the wrecker business, you’d be making some money today.”
In Tennessee, Kim Ruehl and Mercedes Volk waited out the storm at a fast-food restaurant in Parkers Crossroads with their 3-year-old daughter, Quinn, who snacked on a cheeseburger and milk.
They were heading from Asheville, North Carolina, to Fort Smith, Arkansas, to research a book. They stayed overnight in Nashville and were hoping to drive west through the storm in their Mini Cooper. They pulled off Interstate 40 because of the dangerous driving conditions.
“The windshield wipers froze and the road just got real bad,” Ruehl said.
They weren’t expecting such bad conditions, but they left early from Nashville anyway.
“An hour into our drive, I was like, we should have stayed in Nashville,” Volk said.
In Kentucky, truck stop employee Paige Harville said traffic was much lighter than usual early Friday along Interstate 24 at Paducah.
“There’s not much of it,” she said. “Like nothing.”
Officials in McCracken County, where Paducah is located, said a semi crash started the day off on Friday. The semi-truck slid on ice blocking all westbound lanes on I-24, and officials said this was just one of the many collisions in the area.
In nearby Mayfield in western Kentucky, postal workers arrived at work to find their delivery vehicles iced over. They had to de-ice the trucks before they could unlock them. Letter carrier Corey Asher was ready for treacherous conditions as he started his route.
“The snow covers up the sleet and ice, so where you think you might have solid footing you may not,” he said. “So your steps have to be choppy today. You have to be real diligent about where you walk, and use hand rails.”
Winter storm warnings were posted for the western halves of Tennessee and Kentucky as unseasonably warm weather in recent days gave way to winter conditions.
In western Kentucky, roads were covered with layers of ice. On top of that was about three tenths of an inch of sleet, said National Weather Service meteorologist Robin Smith.
“Don’t go out unless you absolutely have to,” Smith warned.
Winds up to 35 mph further complicated driving. By early afternoon, much of western Kentucky had 1-3 inches of snow. Parts of West Tennessee had 3-4 inches.
Meanwhile, forecasters predicted 2-5 inches of snow in the Louisville and Lexington areas of Kentucky later Friday as temperatures dropped.
Many school districts in Kentucky and Tennessee called off classes Friday. Several colleges and universities in both states also canceled classes, including at Vanderbilt University, Murray State University and Western Kentucky University.
Some flights were canceled at the Memphis airport.
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam closed state offices Friday in West and Middle Tennessee due to the winter weather.
The winter storm prompted Kentucky House and Senate leaders to call off Friday’s legislative session.
Power outages in Kentucky appeared to be sporadic. By midday Friday, the Kentucky Emergency Management agency reported slightly more than 900 outages statewide.
Meanwhile, tens of thousands of people got the day off in northern Alabama, because of the possibility of icy weather. Forecasters predicted the light snow and sleet will be clearing Friday night. Expect some clearing into the early morning but lows will be getting down into the upper teens and lower 20s across the viewing area overnight.
School systems in the state’s Tennessee Valley region shut down Friday as forecasters warned of the possibility of ice, sleet and snow that could coat roads. Several universities also closed, and some counties closed their offices for the day.