East Tennesseans awoke to a blanket of white and subfreezing temperatures Monday morning. Those conditions prompted schools and government offices to close or delay their openings as a historically cold air mass moved into the region.
The Tennessee Department of Transportation strongly recommended avoiding travel Monday and Tuesday. Knoxville road crews spent hours treating area roadways with a brine mixture intended to help prevent frozen spots. But TDOT officials said that brine solution doesn't work at the unusually low temperatures forecast for Monday night and Tuesday. As of Monday morning, interstates and major secondary roads appeared to be clear, but many side roads and rural routes were covered with snow. Some icing was expected as temperatures fall Monday.
A few flights out of Knoxville's McGhee-Tyson Airport were cancelled, but the majority of flights arriving at and departing from the airport were on time. The airport began calling in staff late Sunday night to monitor conditions and maintain runways.
Winter weather advisories and winter storm warnings issued Sunday night were expected to continue through midday Monday, with snowfall tapering off from west to east. What will be left behind is very cold air and severe wind chills. Wind chill advisories had been posted for all of East Tennessee, along with parts of southern Kentucky, southwestern Virginia and western North Carolina.
Those wind chill values are forecast to be at dangerous levels.
“As we get into [Monday] afternoon and the night, it gets into negative six, negative eight. And then by Tuesday morning, it’s around minus ten,” said National Weather Service forecaster Jess Winton. That's for the valley. On the Pleateau and in the Smokies, it's expected to be even colder, with wind chills projected near -15 to -25 degrees Monday night and Tuesday.
Tuesday morning will also likely set a new record low for January 7. The region hasn’t experienced this kind of January chill since the Nixon Administration, Winton said.
“We’re going to break a record [Tuesday]," Winton said. "The record is around six degrees, but it was actually set in 1970. So it’s been that long since it’s been this cold."
The last time a comparably cold airmass moved into East Tennessee was February of 1996. A low of one degree was recorded on February 4, 1996. That was still above Knoxville’s all-time record low, negative 24, set in January of 1985.
Milder air will return later in the workweek, with temperatures back to seasonal averages by Friday and Saturday.