published Wednesday, January 29th, 2014

Early school dismissal aggravated gridlock in snowy Chattanooga area

Did Tuesday's snow cause problems for you?

The decision to send students home at midmorning Tuesday set off a chain reaction of events that left parents stranded on the way to pick up their kids, hampered the efforts of crews working feverishly to clear the roads and left many students stuck at school anyway.

Shortly after 10:30 a.m., parents were notified that Hamilton County Schools would start dismissing at 11. But it took hours for some schools to clear out. And though the snowstorm seemed to take everyone by surprise, many parents are fuming over school administrators' decision to cancel classes at midday.

But Superintendent Rick Smith said the system had little warning of Tuesday's storm. Oftentimes, the National Weather Service holds webinars with school officials, emergency crews and highway departments in anticipation of severe weather -- sometimes starting three days prior to such a storm. But no such preparation took place this time, as meteorologists predicted only flurries of snow -- not the steady accumulation that blanketed the region.

"We didn't get the kind of information we usually get," Smith said Tuesday. "If I had known what we were facing today, we would not have had school today."

The storm caused unprecedented transportation problems for schools, Smith said. Some routes were canceled because of impassable roads; some buses got stuck, and others got into fender benders. Some drivers couldn't even get to their buses because they were stuck in traffic. The collective issues put thousands of parents on the road headed to schools. And students waited to be picked up at some schools until 5 p.m.

Tyner Academy didn't get its first bus until 2 p.m. By 3 p.m., Principal Carol Goss said there were still more than 60 kids at school waiting to be picked up.

With a tiered bus system, it usually takes a few hours to get kids home during early dismissals. But Goss said Tuesday's delays were unprecedented.

"It's never quite this bad," she said.

Tracey Korynas said school should have been called off earlier in the day. Her two daughters took the bus to East Lake Academy. But the bus couldn't get them home and her car wasn't working.

"If you got my kids to school, why didn't you plan to get them home?" she said.

Korynas said a teacher graciously gave her daughters a ride home. She thinks if schools had made the call closer to the start of the snow, much of Tuesday's hassle could have been avoided.

"This has caused a lot of people to be in wrecks. It's left kids stuck at school," she said.

School systems across the region started canceling classes midmorning, filling already-gridlocked roads with buses and cars.

"It's making it harder to get out there and get this finished," Public Works Director Lee Norris said late Tuesday morning. "But we will do what we need to do."

After looking at the forecast at 6:30 a.m., Tracy Faulkner knew things were going to get bad.

As the snow started to pile up, she headed to Signal Mountain Middle-High School to check out her three children. She said the school system should be more cautious with this kind of weather, especially in high-elevation areas like Signal Mountain.

"I've seen it happen just way too many times, where they wait until it's already dangerous to call school," she said.

Staff writer Kate Harrison contributed to this report.

Contact Kevin Hardy at or 423-757-6249.

  • photo
    UTC students try to free a car that is stuck in ice on Oak Street during afternoon snow on Tuesday.
    Photo by Doug Strickland.
    enlarge photo


Schools Canceled

Athens City

Bradley County

Calhoun, Ga.

Catoosa County

Chattanooga Catholic schools

Chattanooga State Technical Community College

Cleveland City

Cleveland State

Dade County

Dalton Schools

DeKalb County, Ala.

Gordon County

Hamilton County

Jackson County, Ala.

Marion County

McCallie School

McMinn County

Meigs County

Murray County

All campuses of Georgia Northwestern Technical College

Polk County

Rhea County


Walker County

Whitfield County


Hamilton Place mall and Northgate Mall will open at noon.


Chattanooga City Court will be closed.

Chattanooga Court Clerk's Office will be closed

Georgia government offices open at noon

Hamilton County Courthouse is open, commission agenda session canceled

Hamilton County General Sessions Court, both civil and criminal divisions, will be closed.

Hamilton County Juvenile Court closed.

Walker County offices closed except essential services.

about Kevin Hardy...

Kevin rejoined the Times Free Press in August 2011 as the Southeast Tennessee K-12 education reporter. He worked as an intern in 2009, covering the communities of Signal Mountain, Red Bank, Collegedale and Lookout Mountain, Tenn. A native Kansan, Kevin graduated with bachelor's degrees in journalism and sociology from the University of Kansas. After graduating, he worked as an education reporter in Hutchinson, Kan., for a year before coming back to Chattanooga. Honors include a ...

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