Smokies crews busy preparing for more winter weather

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GATLINBURG (WATE) – We have seen our fair share of winter weather this year, but if you think the snow piled up in your backyard, you should have seen the Smokies.

Park rangers have spent the past two weeks tirelessly working to clear the roads.

There was not much left Tuesday of the snow and ice that fell in the Smokies over the past two weeks, but they had plenty before.

“We saw over a quarter of an inch of ice when the ice storm came and then on top of that we had a huge wind event. We had a 92 mile an hour gust one afternoon,” said park spokesperson Brent Everitt.

That ice coupled with up to 19 inches of snow in the high elevations left their crews busy making roads passable. Many times plow drivers rotated 12 hour shifts.

“Has been tough. We’ve dumped over 500 tons of sand within the park just to add that traction and try to get the roads open,” said Everitt.

The park service has two different products that they use when the snow falls. They only use salt on The Spur between Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg because it is a commuter road.

Through the rest of the park they use chat. It is a gravel mixture that helps vehicles gain traction on the snowy roads.

“We don’t use salt because it can heavily impact the streams within the park. We have over 3000 streams here in the park and we don’t want to impact the wildlife living in those streams,” said Everitt.

Salt also comes at a much higher cost than the chat.

They have used about 140 tons of salt this winter adding up to nearly $21,000. The 500 tons of chat spread out costs only about $8,000.

“It’s part of our annual winter ops budget. The plow trucks, we have seven in the park working right now,” said Everitt.

With the possibility of more winter weather in the forecast, the crews are on standby to head back up the mountains.

“It may look nice down here in the valley, but you’ve got to remember up on that mountain you’re talking about 3,000; 4,000; 5,000 feet higher than we are now. It’s going to be a lot different,” said Everitt.

Park workers say they work with the National Weather Service in both Morristown and Greenville, South Carolina to help determine how the weather will impact the park so they can be prepared before it hits.

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