State of emergency in Shelby County as snow, low temps cause troubles

A MATA bus slid Thursday morning in front of Richland Elementary School. (Photo submitted to My 5 by an Action News 5 viewer.)
A MATA bus slid Thursday morning in front of Richland Elementary School. (Photo submitted to My 5 by an Action News 5 viewer.)

MEMPHIS, TN (WMC-TV) - Snow and dropping temperatures closed schools and created hazardous driving conditions across the Mid-South Thursday, prompting Shelby County's mayor to declare a state of emergency.

While most roads in the greater Memphis area remained open Thursday, bridges and overpasses proved to be especially treacherous.  Officials in Shelby County said city and county law enforcement agencies investigated more than 30 traffic crashes Thursday morning, mostly involving vehicles that veered off the road.

As road conditions led most area school districts to close, officials at Memphis City Schools initially made the decision to open for the day.  By mid-morning, district officials announced that all schools would close one hour earlier than normal, and canceled all evening activities and athletic events.

The decision confused some parents and guardians.

"I couldn't figure out, if you let them come this morning, now why do you let them out an hour early?" asked Alberta Gibson, the grandmother of a student at East Junior High.

Late in the day, Memphis City Schools called a press conference to address those concerns.

"The main forecast as the day progressed was for a huge drop in temperature, and with all those factors in place we felt it would be appropriate to make the decision for hour early release - a release of an hour early to make sure we could get all our students home safely," said MCS Chief of Staff Alfred Hall.

Hall said schools would remain open whenever possible.

"While safety is our first, first priority, when we're able to ensure the safe passage of our students, our decision will always be to open Memphis City Schools whenever possible to support the great needs that our students have," he said.

The greater problem could be how people cope with the Arctic air chasing the snow showers. The National Weather Service said the very cold air would drop low temperatures into the single digits to low teens Friday night and Saturday night.

Responding to that threat, interim Shelby County Mayor Joe Ford declared a local state of emergency Thursday evening, asking government agencies and county residents to brace for extreme weather conditions.

Several utilities across Tennessee have already had water mains break because of a week of below-freezing weather, and plumbers were expecting a busy period of fixing water pipes after the bitterly cold weekend temperatures.

In Dyersburg, Murray Moore set out something of a snow decoy, spraying the front lawn of the Dyersburg Funeral home with frozen precipitation from a snow machine. He told the State Gazette it was a Christmas present from his son last year.

Moore - a longtime duck hunter - compared his man-made snow, manufactured Tuesday, to plastic decoys hunters set out to attract waterfowl.

Copyright 2009 WMC-TV. All rights reserved.  The AP contributed to this story.