PARKERS CROSSROADS, Tenn./January 12, 2018(AP)(STL.News)— James A. Jones saw enough cars stranded along the icy highway to know it was time to pull over as a winter storm blasted parts of Tennessee and Kentucky with sleet, freezing rain and snow Friday.
Jones counted 25 cars stuck by the road as he drove from Memphis to McMinnville, Tennessee, about 280 miles (450 kilometers) away. He decided not to risk it any longer and took a break in the West Tennessee town of Parkers Crossroads.
“It’s rough riding,” he said. “If you was in the wrecker business, you’d be making some money today.”
The winter storm, which began with an icy mix before turning to snow, forced schools and businesses to close in Tennessee and Kentucky. Ice that coated broad swaths of the South snarled traffic.
Throughout the day, highway patrol troopers and road crews dealt with multiple crashes involving truck and cars along Interstate 40 between Memphis and Nashville.
Heavy snow made visibility difficult and a mixture of snow, ice and sand used to dry out the roads became a slushy mess and made for hazardous driving. Accidents on the busy interstate led to long lines of parked vehicles as drivers waited for crews to clear the highway.
Memphis police responded to more than 100 crashes. In Mississippi, a tractor-trailer overturned after crashing on icy Interstate 55, causing traffic delays.
In Tennessee, Kim Ruehl and Mercedes Volk waited out the storm at a fast-food restaurant in Parkers Crossroads with their 3-year-old daughter, Quinn, who snacked on a cheeseburger and milk.
They were heading from Asheville, North Carolina, to Fort Smith, Arkansas, to research a book. They stayed overnight in Nashville and were hoping to drive west through the storm in their Mini Cooper.
They pulled off Interstate 40 because of the dangerous driving conditions.
“The windshield wipers froze and the road just got real bad,” Ruehl said.
They weren’t expecting such bad conditions, but they left early from Nashville anyway.
“An hour into our drive, I was like, we should have stayed in Nashville,” Volk said.
In Kentucky, truck stop employee Paige Harville said traffic was much lighter than usual early Friday along Interstate 24 at Paducah.
“There’s not much of it,” she said. “Like nothing.”
In nearby Mayfield in western Kentucky, postal workers arrived at work to find their delivery vehicles iced over. They had to de-ice the trucks before they could unlock them. Letter carrier Corey Asher was ready for treacherous conditions as he started his route.
“The snow covers up the sleet and ice, so where you think you might have solid footing you may not,” he said. “So your steps have to be choppy today. You have to be real diligent about where you walk, and use hand rails.”
Winter storm warnings were posted for the western halves of Tennessee and Kentucky as unseasonably warm weather in recent days gave way to winter conditions.
In western Kentucky, roads were covered with layers of ice. On top of that was about three tenths of an inch of sleet, said National Weather Service meteorologist Robin Smith.
“Don’t go out unless you absolutely have to,” Smith warned.
Winds up to 35 mph (56 kph) further complicated driving. By early afternoon, much of western Kentucky had 1-3 inches (3-8 centimeters) of snow. Parts of West Tennessee had 3-4 inches (8-10 centimeters).
Meanwhile, forecasters predicted 2-5 inches (5-12 centimeters) of snow in the Louisville and Lexington areas of Kentucky as temperatures dropped.
In West Virginia, floodwaters were blamed for the death of a woman who police say was driving in high water when she lost control and went into a creek. Her body was recovered from the sunken car.
Many school districts in Kentucky and Tennessee called off classes Friday. Several colleges and universities in both states also canceled classes, including at Vanderbilt University, Murray State University and Western Kentucky University.
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam closed state offices Friday in West and Middle Tennessee because of the winter weather. And Kentucky House and Senate leaders to call off Friday’s legislative session.