Tennessee Winter Storm: Ice And Sleet Cause Dangerous Roads In The Region

Feb 15, 2021

A pedestrian and a driver navigate icy conditions in East Nashville on Monday morning. More snow is expected.
Credit Tony Gonzalez / WPLN News

As the region wakes up to a wintry mix of snow and ice, forecasters warn that the worst of the storm is yet to come, bringing 1 to 3 inches of snow in Nashville and up to 5 inches around Clarksville.

The storm has caused institutional closures, stopped some public transit service, and pushed road crews into around-the-clock duties. Travel is treacherous across the region, with black ice likely even on the interstates.

“If you can stay at home, please stay at home,” says Tennessee Department of Transportation Commissioner Clay Bright.

Crews have had to focus on the highest priority roads, like interstates. For the most part, smaller state routes have been pre-treated but have not been cleared.

“A lot of our region got a big round of sleet, which doesn’t create the pretty scene like the snow, but it causes a lot of problems on the roads,” says TDOT spokesperson Kathryn Schulte. “We’ve been having to do constant passes on the interstate to try to dry up the moisture that’s out there.”

Conditions are expected to worsen later Monday morning. Meteorologists are expecting another wave of wintry precipitation, lasting through the afternoon or evening.

The highest snowfall totals — which are now forecasted at 3 to 5 inches — are expected west and northwest of Nashville. The Nashville Metro area could see a mix of a couple inches of snow, sleet and freezing rain. Areas east of Nashville can expect a quarter-inch of ice with lighter snowfall.

The full Monday morning briefing from the local office of the Weather Service is online here.

Travel with caution

On Monday, Nashville’s bus service started on major corridors only. WeGo is operating only along Dickerson Road, West End Avenue, and Charlotte, Nolensville, Murfreesboro and Gallatin Pikes. Regional bus routes are cancelled for the day. Service could be further limited by the second round of the winter storm.

The storm’s first round delivered a wintry mix Sunday that contributed to hundreds of crashes. By 2 p.m., the Tennessee Highway Patrol had reported more than 100 wrecks across 12 counties, and Nashville police later said they counted 230 crashes — including 40 with injuries — between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m.

“This is not your ordinary, average snowstorm,” said THP Lt. Charlie Caplinger. “This is a lot of ice … before the snow gets here.”

Icy roads also caused a severe wreck Saturday, including a 21-vehicle crash on Interstate 24 on Saturday, with 12 people injured and taken to hospitals. Other roads in Williamson County went through crash-related closures, and a police cruiser was struck in Mt. Juliet.

Many institutions announced closures in anticipation of the tumultuous weather, including:

  • Middle Tennessee State University and Tennessee Tech have cancelled all classes for Monday, in-person and online.
  • Other colleges — including Cumberland, Fisk, Vanderbilt, Trevecca Nazarene, Lipscomb and Austin Peay State Universities — are shifting to all-remote learning for Monday and Tuesday.
  • Veterans hospitals have postponed Monday’s walk-in vaccination clinic.
  • No regional bus service for WeGo on Monday. (WeGo halted service on four routes at 8:15 p.m. Sunday night.)
  • Williamson Medical Center and Williamson Medical Group will be closing all clinics and cancelling all outpatient and elective services Monday, February 15.
  • And the Tennessee House of Representatives is already planning to delay its proceedings on Tuesday by at least a few hours.

Timing and temperatures complicate forecast

Meteorologists expect a wintry mix first, with possible ice accumulation. Maps show bands of snow, freezing rain and sleet from Sunday evening through Tuesday morning.

Monday’s highs are only expected to reach the mid-20s, with overnight lows dipping into the teens, so whatever is melted today by traffic will likely refreeze overnight. Right now, the forecast doesn’t call for the temperature to rise above freezing until midday Wednesday, and even then it will likely still be in the 30s.

That’s cold enough for Metro to open its extreme cold weather overflow shelter at least through Wednesday, at the Nashville Fairgrounds. People with pets are welcomed.

The city’s Office of Emergency Management will also send out “cold patrols” to help people reach shelter and hand out blankets, gloves and hand warmers.

By 11 p.m. Sunday, some 3,000 customers were without power across Tennessee, according to the state’s emergency management agency. Most had power restored by Monday morning.

This is a developing story that was last updated at 8:30 a.m. Monday.