20" of snow in parts of the Smokies; visitors still coming

GATLINBURG, Tenn. (WVLT/AP) -- Rangers at Great Smoky Mountains National Park say they are watching the weather closely, and have now closed several roads.

The National Weather Service predicts continuing snow showers over the higher elevations through Wednesday morning. Snow accumulations of 6 to 24 inches are possible, mainly above 2,500 feet. Localized areas above 5,000 feet could accumulate as much as 35 inches.

The weight of the snow could bring down some trees and limbs, causing power outages. The roads are expected to be slick and hazardous.

Roads that are closed include Newfound Gap Road, the Foothills Parkway, and the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail. Also closed are Cataloochee Entrance Road and the Blue Ridge Parkway from US-441 near Cherokee, NC to US-276.

At Mt. LeConte, they are now reporting 20 inches of snow has fallen and the temperature is 17 degrees. The National Weather Service reports 18" at Newfound Gap in Sevier County.

Newfound Gap Road between Gatlinburg and Cherokee close at 2:30 Monday afternoon, after reopening mid morning. Snow and ice on the road forced park officials to close it back down.

Dana Soehn, spokesperson for the park, says crews have worked hard to keep the road open as much as possible.

"This could end up being our largest snowfall in October. We'll know on Wednesday after the storm passes through," said Soehn.
Crews plan to return to the roads with salt/sand and snow blows to remove any snow that falls over night.

More than 6 inches of snow had fallen by midday at much of the parks higher elevations. Rangers are watching closely as forecasters call for close to a foot of snow in places and high winds. Soehn says the wind could bring down trees and cause even more problems in the park.

At Newfound Gap, folks couldn't resist the temptation to get out and play in the wintry weather.

"10 degrees difference probably from the time we left to time we are here now. And there wasn't any snow down there all up here," said Larry LIttleton, who'd drove from Gatlinburg while on vacation from Ohio. "We came up here to see the snow and ice. Hopefully we'll go back down, it'll be a little bit warmer."

Some valley locations could also receive light snowfall as well, but accumulations of only an inch or less are expected in most areas below 2,000 feet.

But, the snow and freezing temperatures didn't stop some people from visiting the Park. Rangers said they spent Monday trying to connect with about 50 registered hikers who are in the park. Rangers worry that some people may not be equipped to handle the cold weather.

Dean Siornicke of Spring Hill, Fla., said the snow was up to his knees but he still had a blast.

He and a friend found a shelter, built a fire and hung a tarp over the door.

But Jenny and Terry Bourg were not as prepared for the storm when they came from Houma, La., to rent a cabin for their 25th wedding anniversary.

As they struggled to make their way through the snow on Monday, Terry Bourg told the paper they had never seen anything like it in their lives.

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