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Memphis, Shelby County prepared to keep roadways clear, residents safe during winter storm

(Source: WMC Action News 5) (Source: WMC Action News 5)

A major winter storm was expected to move into the Mid-South early Friday morning. Memphis and Shelby County crews said they were prepared to keep citizens safe. For the most part, the road never really got too bad, and for those that did, the city treated them with salt and sand. However, the bigger problem is going to be overnight when all the moisture re-freezes and patches of black ice appear.

"So far, they've been pretty good. I've been a little nervous about it, cause I'm not a good driver. But, I've got God on my side, so I made it," Rita Williams, driver, said.

Williams said she just took it slow and easy.

"I'm just driving five miles an hour. Got everybody behind me blowin' but hey, safety first," Williams said.

She said a few overpasses were a little bit slick, but she thinks city crews did a good job treating them.

Arlenia Cole with the Public Works Division said crews were out fighting the black ice threat, treating the roads early to get ahead of it.

She said being proactive comes from experience.

"We have learned. We are stockpiling a lot of salt, a lot of sand to make sure when we have bouts of inclement weather that we're well prepared for it," Cole said.

However, after dark, as temperatures drop and moisture refreezes, the invisible ice...will form.

"Doesn't concern me. I think we're over the worst of it," Jim Drake, driver, said.

Drake doesn't worry about how he will handle black ice patches but he does worry about other drivers who are not as careful.

"I worry about them even in good conditions. So, I was always taught to drive defensively regardless of the conditions," Drake said.

Williams is not afraid to admit she is one of those drivers who should not even try driving when there could be black ice and she hopes others will be as honest about it as she is.

"Yeah, stay at home. For drivers like me, stay at home. Go and get your chili cheese toast and stay at home," Williams said. "Just be safe out here ya'll. Be safe."

"I got a little sideways this morning leaving the gym, but nothing crazy," Daniel Payne, driver, said.

Payne lives on Mud Island and said the roads and the bridge were quite slick.

"There was no one really out, so I kind of just skidded to a stop," Payne said. "I saw evidence that they had been treating the roads, especially on the bridge at Mud Island and a couple of other places."

Arlenia Cole with the Public Works Division said crews are also preparing for overnight re-freezing that could cause black ice.

"Putting down sand and salt on our major thoroughfares, our bridges, overpasses, inclines and declines to make sure our citizens have safe passages," Cole said.

But there could still be slick spots people don't see and David Malone worries not everybody is careful enough for the frozen threat that's out there.

"Man, slow it down and give yourself enough time to stop. Come to a complete stop," Malone said.

It's a slick situation Payne is hoping to avoid.

"Going to meetings that I have to go to today. After those are done, I'll probably end up parking and if I do go somewhere, Uber or Lyfting and let someone else deal with driving," Payne said.

White snow was a fun distraction for many Friday, but black ice could be anything but fun if you hit a patch.

Black ice isn't colored at all.

"It's where the ice blends into the road and you can't see it," Emily Pierce, native South Dakotan, said. "Just go slow and don't speed. I mean, you just got to slow it down during the wintertime."

Margaret McClain doesn't take any chances.

"Oh no. Dare not. Not in this weather," McClain said.

She said she would rather walk in this type of weather than try driving.

"The weather here is crazy, along with some of the drivers. Some of the people here can't drive that well. Better off walking or catching the bus," McClain said.

Road preparations before Friday's weather

"We've been down this road before, we have adequate resources, and all our people are ready to react," Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell said.

Mayor Luttrell said the county's emergency operation center would be all hands on deck starting at midnight Friday.

Unfortunately, the roads cannot be pretreated because it will be raining up until the snow and ice starts falling. If crews pretreated the roads, the rain would simply wash it all away.

Crews are scheduled to start treating Memphis roads around midnight. It will be the first time the roads in Memphis have been treated for this weather event and it will be the first time they can be treated because of the rain. 

Thursday's rain forced crews to wait, but officials said they are still more than prepared to handle the weather.

"Historically, the past two years have been kind of a fluke,"  Memphis Public Works Director Robert Knecht said. 

Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland announced Memphis warming centers would be open overnight. He also said people should stay indoors as much as possible.

"We just caution our citizens to be very, very careful," Strickland said. "We ask that you keep your TV's on as long as there is electricity for any announcement."

The city will have six new plows on Memphis roads Friday, if snow starts to accumulate beyond one or two inches.

That brings the total of plow attachments in Memphis to eight. The plows attach to tractors and drive in front of sand and salt trucks to clear the roads.

"It is a situation that you have to pay attention to and try to be responsible,” Knecht said. "We did acquire several snow plow attachments. We do have several set up and ready if needed."

The move came last year after about three inches of snow fell on the city of Memphis. This time, we're forecasted to get 1-3 inches, which is exactly why you'll likely see yellow plows out on the roads.

"Our focuses are on bridges and overpasses, inclines and declines are the priorities. We do them, secondary intersections, major intersections and other areas on an as needed basis,” Knecht said. "They're not effective in removing ice, typically they are just used for snow."

As for ice, Knecht said they have 3000 tons of salt, 8000 tons of sand and 16 trucks to treat roads. However, public works will not be able to treat roads with brine before the weather moves in because the roads are wet and rain is in the forecast.

"We remind the public that if you don't have to drive, don't drive,” Knecht said.

"If you don't have to leave home, don't leave home," Police Director Toney Armstrong said.

Crews are on standby and prepared to respond.  Public Works is prepared for employees to possibly work overtime.

The Flyover

One area that could be dangerous when the winter storm moves in is the new flyover.

TDOT is dedicating specific equipment to the flyover.

"People from Memphis are not used to hills, they're used to the flat stuff. We have mountains in East Tennessee that are a lot worse than that flyover and we're prepared to handle it," TDOT Commissioner John Schroer said.

His statements about "handling" the flyover back in October 2015 will be put to the test Friday as winter weather moves into the Mid-South.

The highest point in the flyover is 95 feet off the ground, making it the tallest in the state.

TDOT says because of that elevation, they are monitoring the overpass and will dedicate specific plow trucks and salt trucks as needed.

"We're going to be out there clearing the roads, whether it's the flyover, a bypass, a bridge," TDOT representative Nichole Lawrence said.

Last year, the narrow roadways and lane closures leading up to the flyover plagued drivers.

"I will be glad when it's over," resident James Williams said.

"Ramps are still tricky. Bridges are still tricky," resident Mike Johnson said.

This year TDOT said they're committing more than 300-350 personnel, 170 salt trucks, 29,000 tons of salt, and at least 400,000 gallons of salt brine to treat the more than 9,600 miles of interstate in West Tennessee.

Their best advice to drivers is to stay off the roads if possible and take it slow.

The slick, wet roads are just the start to potentially dangerous and icy weather heading to the Mid-South Thursday night.

"Well it's cold enough to fill up," Michael Sheffa said.

People are filling up and stocking up in preparation for the coming weather.

"We got chicken and ground beef and we double up the milk," Barbara McGinnis said. "It's very dangerous. It's very dangerous. Actually, I had someone to run into the back of me because they couldn't stop I guess."

Major streets, like Poplar Avenue, will be treated with salt and sand first. So, if you have to drive on any small streets or alleyways, be on the look out for ice.

Officials want to make clear that if your driveway is covered in snow, even if that snow was pushed there by a snow plow, it is your responsibility to clean it up.

Staying Informed:

We will be on the air at 4 a.m. Friday morning giving you all the information you need to know to keep you safe.

We are dedicated to keeping you safe and informed of any and all winter weather here across the Mid-South!

Text 'SEVERE' to 90105 to receive severe weather alert text messages.

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