CORBIN — The first winter storm of 2013 reared its ugly head over the region early Friday morning. It brought a mix of freezing rain, sleet and in some places, snow, to the Tri-County, which combined with temperatures around the freezing mark, made for a mess on area streets and roads.
That in turn caused numerous accidents on the highways, called schools off for the day, and postponed or cancelled several events Friday.
Our area, and much of Kentucky was put under a Winter Weather Advisory on Thursday due to the potential of the storm to be hazardous. While most of us slept, road crews were out treating highways, streets, bridges and overpasses for the icy invasion, and the National Weather Service put southeastern Kentucky under an Ice Storm Warning during the overnight hours.
When the morning commute began Friday morning, there was an eerie quiet to most roads and streets, as a sheet of ice covered windshields and the pavement. For some that traveled, the winter mix led to an accident, with most of them minor, according to law enforcement.
Dovie Wilson, a dispatcher with the Corbin Police Department, had already heard numerous reports of wrecks by 11 a.m.
“We’ve had a lot of accidents. People are having fender-benders, as well as sliding off the road and going into ditches, but so far nothing serious. The road conditions are still slick, and the street department is right on top of it. But the temperature is around freezing, and some streets and roads still freeze over. The interstate and main roads are passable, but if people just take their time and not get in a hurry, they’ll be OK.”
By mid-morning, the Sheriff’s Office reported all roads in Laurel County, including I-75, Ky. 80, the Hal Rogers Parkway and the Russell Dyche Memorial Highway, were extremely slick and hazardous. They added deputies were out in full force and investigating numerous accidents, and advised motorists to limit their driving to emergencies only.
“It’s very hazardous all over the county. As far as I know, there’s been no serious injuries. I came out East 80 and had to work a wreck near the Jackson County line, and it took me 50 minutes to get out there,” said Adm. Sgt. E.R. Rudder of the Laurel County Sheriff’s Office.
In Whitley County and in Barbourville, the scene was the same for those who ventured out — slippery when wet and icy.
“They’re slick and hazardous overall. I-75 is OK here in the county for the most part. We’ve had some accidents, and we’ve got some that are still in the ditches,” said Courtney Morgan with Whitley County Dispatch.
Barbourville Dispatch’s Robbie Partin was also having a busy day at work. “We’ve had some minor wrecks in the city, but most roads are very slick. They’ve put some salt down and treated Route 25E, but it’s slushy, and there are some ice patches on some other roads. The best advice is just stay home, unless you just have to travel.”
At times, conversation with an officer on the road situation had to be cut off due to the need to respond to the scene. That was the case in Knox County during a call to Deputy Roy Gambrel of the Knox County Sheriff’s Office.
“It’s slick and slushy, brother. We’ve had several wrecks this morning. Most of them have been minor, but we just had an accident with possible injuries up on Moore Creek Road. A vehicle slipped into a creek, and we’ve gotta go,” he quickly said before hanging up.
By the noon hour, the scene in Williamsburg had improved, according to Police Chief Wayne Bird.
“They’re actually better at this hour than they were this morning. There were no reported accidents in the city this morning. The main roads and streets are passable, but some side streets are slick and hazardous. The biggest problem we’ve had are some people falling in parking lots, due to the ice. Some seniors and a couple of city employees fell and had to be treated. We’re getting rain now, but the temperature’s hovering around freezing. That could be a problem tonight.”
In London, Capt. Ken Jones of the city’s police department noted they worked numerous non-injury accidents Friday morning, and asked people to stay off the roads unless they absolutely had to drive. He also pointed out three key things essential to winter driving.
“This is our first ice storm of the year, and the first real winter storm we’ve had in a couple of years, and people are just getting adjusted to it. Any type of distraction could cause you to slide off the road in this ice. When people drive in these conditions, they need to pay attention, slow down and triple the distance between you and the vehicle in front of you.”
State highway trucks and crews joined local forces in keeping the roads salted and treated throughout the night, and throughout the storm.
One Kentucky Transportation Cabinet official said they felt very well-prepared with dealing with the winter mess.
“This was one of our most challenging events to deal with, with such a fast-moving storm system. We had several roads in our region that had to be treated over and over and over during the morning because they froze with the near-freezing temperatures. We did have a few trucks in the ditch in Laurel County this morning, but things went pretty smooth for us in Whitley and Knox counties,” said Jonathon Dobson, the public affairs officer for the state Highway Department’s district office in Manchester.
While he said around 1 p.m. Friday that I-75 wasn’t closed due to the weather, there were some accidents on the road that blocked traffic at times.
“Because of those accidents, it delayed getting salt to that area of I-75 during the noon hour. They had to bring salt trucks in from other locations to go around the accident, but we expect that within the next hour the road will reopen,” Dobson stated.
The Weather Service Office in Jackson received reports of a quarter-inch of freezing rain in Barbourville, and in the Vox and Baldrock areas of Laurel County. In Corbin, ice accumulations ranged form one-eighth inch to a quarter-inch, according to law enforcement just after 10 a.m. At the same time in the Baldrock area, a trained spotter said freezing rain was falling heavily with roads starting to melt, but porches and sidewalks were a solid sheet of ice.
Weather Service meteorologists said they expected the winter storm to happen. And they prepared for it.
“We had this event highlighted in our hazardous weather outlook for the last four to five days. Looking ahead at the time it came in, this storm was a fast-moving system. It impacted the area around 4 a.m., and as of now, this system is moving out fast. We knew it would be a short weather event, but a very tricky one,” said David Shallenberger, a meteorologist with the Weather Service office.
He added that the storm was well-forecasted.
“Most of the ice, sleet and freezing rain fell along and south of the Hal Rogers Parkway, while the snow areas were pretty much to the north and east. And it got the Tri-County region with the icy conditions.”
With the storm system moving out of the area during the afternoon, Shallenberger noted the chill and leftover ice and water would still make some driving tricky Friday night.
“There’s still some lingering drizzle and areas below freezing. There will still be some slick areas, and that’s complicated by the precipitation we already have. And the temperatures will fall at night, before they go up to the mid to upper 30’s on Saturday.”