High winds reported in Smokies; roads and facilities closed

Great Smoky Mountains National Park is taking steps to ensure the safety of both visitors and employees in preperation of Hurricane Irma. Over the weekend, officials closed several roads and campgrounds.

GREAT SMOKY MOUNTAINS NATIONAL PARK - UPDATE: Great Smoky Mountains National Park officials closeD Newfound Gap Road and Little River Road at 5:00 p.m. on Monday due to high winds associated with Hurricane Irma. The park has experienced rain and strong winds across ridges of the higher elevations throughout the day.

Earlier this afternoon, sustained winds at Clingmans Dome were 30 mph with gusts up to 58 mph. At Cove Mountain, sustained winds were 23 mph with gusts up to 38 mph. The strongest winds associated with the remnants of Hurricane Irma are expected Monday evening and overnight.

Sugarlands Visitor Center, Oconaluftee Visitor Center, and Administrative facilities closed at noon today. The Spur and Bypass will remain open at this time. 

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When Yoshi Dade and his family evacuated Miami, they chose to travel to East Tennessee because it held sights his family had never seen.

"Our idea was to get away and go explore this beautiful state, and now they're closing it, so it's a little down," Dade said.

On Saturday, the national park announced it would close the majority of the roads in the park in advance of severe weather from Irma.

"I got lucky and I got here on Thursday, so we were able to see a couple of the sights, but now it's kind of eerie to think that it could be closing the parks," Dade said.

Park spokesperson Jamie Sanders says the park anticipates sustained winds of 40 mile and hour with gusts faster than that. Additionally, national park meteorologists expect four to six inches of rain.

"Conditions such as this historically have wrought havoc in the park," Sanders said. "Essentially we have seen significant flooding in both our roadways and our campgrounds and excessive trees along our roadways and backcountry areas down."

Sanders says that the park decided to close the roads and facilities Saturday and Sunday to minimize the chance of a visitor needing to be rescued once the storm hit.

"What we don't want to have is our employees out there trying to rescue people when trees are falling on cars and stuff as the storm is coming," Sanders said.

The park plans to keep Newfound Gap Road, the Gatlinburg By-pass and the Spur open, but the closures make most trails inaccessible.

Visitors with reservations for both backcountry and front-country campsites can have their fees refunded.

"We totally understand that people are frustrated with these closures, but we think it's imperative both for the safety of our visitors and our employees to go ahead and get these closures in place," Sanders said.

Although his family won't be able to check off all off the spots in the Smokies on their checklist, Dade says his family will still make the most his time in Tennessee.

"It's a bad situation, but we've got to make the best of it," Dade said. "I believe everything happens for a reason, so I'll be back."

© 2017 WBIR.COM


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