County and city emergency officials ready for possible wintry mix
by Michelle Babcock
February 07, 2014 04:00 AM | 2357 views | 0 0 comments | 17 17 recommendations | email to a friend | print
County and city emergency officials were busy Thursday planning for a possible mixture of snow and rain that could impact Cherokee through early Sunday.

Robby Westbrook, director of the Cherokee Sheriff’s Office Homeland Security-Emergency Management, said the weather this weekend isn’t predicted to be as bad as last week’s winter storm, but county officials met at the Emergency Operations Center to monitor the developing situation out of an “abundance of caution.”

“Right now the forecast is for less snow, but things can always change and that’s why we are here,” Westbrook said Thursday.

The National Weather Service forecast a 20 percent chance of snow and rain to begin falling across north Georgia on Thursday night that could result in less than a half-inch of snow.

Tonight, a second storm system is possible to come through Cherokee, with a 40 percent chance of snow and rain, and a chance of flurries Sunday, the EOC said in a news release.

Westbrook said any time a winter storm event is possible, “no matter how strong,” the EOC is activated to monitor the situation and be ready to take action.

Canton Police Chief Robert Merchant met Thursday at the Canton Emergency Operations Center, and said city officials are preparing for the threat of icy streets and are ready to close roads that become impassable.

“We opened up our emergency operations center and it is currently in a monitoring phase,” Merchant said Thursday. “We have secured four-wheel-drive pickup trucks from the city’s billing department to utilize in the event that roads become icy. We are currently in the process of pre-positioning traffic barrels at locations where we frequently see the roads ice over the quickest.”

Supervisors in various departments are monitoring the situation, he said, and are prepared to jump into action if conditions worsen.

“Public Works has some individuals on stand-by to come in for the plow and the salt machines that we have, and we have areas identified like Hospital Road, the retirement center and the overpasses on Waleska and on Riverstone, and some of the areas up toward Great Sky,” Merchant said.

Although Cherokee County was not under a Winter Weather Advisory Thursday, Westbrook said residents should monitor the latest weather updates and review their winter storm plans.

“This is a rapidly changing situation,” Westbrook added in an EOC update Thursday. “Monitor news media, NOAA weather radio and social media for changes to the forecast before leaving for work or school Thursday morning.”

Westbrook urged residents to monitor forecast updates for the storm system expected to move through Cherokee today and Saturday, and said there is a possibility of more winter storms in the middle of next week.

Merchant said in emergency situations, the police and fire departments are also prepared to assist with salting roads and rescuing stranded motorists using four-wheel-drive trucks and all-terrain vehicles.

Last Tuesday and Wednesday during the snowstorm, the Canton Police Department switched some of their patrol cars for unmarked four-wheel-drive vehicles.

“We had four of them, they were out patrolling and responding,” Merchant said. “They were unmarked, and we’re going to take some steps in the future to get magnetic signs to put on them and some additional lighting to put inside the vehicles.”

Merchant said the use of unmarked vehicles led some residents to voice their concern about not seeing the police out as much as they would have liked during the storm, so the department is taking steps to identify the four-wheel-drive vehicles in the future.

“We had vehicles out and about in the community, we were checking all the vehicles that were abandoned and that’s why you saw the police tape on so many vehicles,” Merchant said of the department’s response in last week’s storm.

Merchant said traffic barrels would be used in the event that roads have to be closed, and said officials have identified areas that ice-over the quickest in freezing temperatures.

“It’s better to be prepared than reactionary,” Merchant said. “That’s why we’re trying to take proactive measures.”

Highway 140, also known as Hickory Flat Highway, between the Interstate 575 ramps and the top of the hill by the Mountain View neighborhood, is one of the problem areas where Canton police are placing traffic barrels, Merchant said.

Merchant said another problem area is Reservoir Road near the First Baptist Canton church, just past the replacement Teasley Middle School that is under construction.

Barrels will also be positioned at the main entrances of the Great Sky and Laurel Canyon neighborhoods off Highway 140, or Waleska Road.

Merchant said the main entrance of Laurel Canyon becomes impassable when it ices because of the steep grade.

“That road has the steepest grade at 18 degrees, so if that road freezes over it’s pretty much impassable,” he said.

The Cherokee County School District canceled all evening activities Thursday that extended past 5 p.m., as the possible winter storm approached.

“The National Weather Service forecast calls for precipitation and freezing temperatures by 7 p.m., which can lead to icy and hazardous roads,” Jacoby said Thursday.

Merchant said earlier this week, department heads met to discuss how the city could respond more efficiently in the case of winter storms and better serve residents, and said it was a “great exchange” of ideas and information.

He said officials learn how to better serve the community after each storm, and said the department’s response to winter storms will continue to improve.

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