Updated: "Superstorm Sandy" Brings Heavy Snows, Flooding, And Towering Waves To National Park System
Sunrise today showed deep, heavy snow in national parks in the Appalachians, flooding along coastal and barrier island parks, and waves towering more than two stories along some lakeshores farther inland.
Those scenarios were just some of the aftermath from "Superstorm Sandy," which was continuing to assault the eastern third of the nation this morning. Reports from individual units of the National Park System were sketchy, as many parks remained closed. But no doubt the storm's high winds have littered the park system with downed trees, while floodwaters and heavy snows have added to the damage.
In the Mountains
Snow, slushy in places, was still accumulating in Great Smoky Mountains National Park and along the Blue Ridge Parkway and in Shenandoah National Park. The wintry weather was forecast to continue through the day and into Wednesday.
By this morning 17 inches of snow had accumulated on Mount LeConte in the Smokies. At LeConte Lodge, at an elevation of 6,593 feet, caretaker Allyson Virden reports there are drifts 4 feet high, and that the high temperature Monday was just 20 degrees.
"We have 15 guests who made it up the mountain yesterday. They said it was tough with just the 8" we had gotten during the day. Today is going to be even worse," she writes in her blog, High on LeConte. "I cannot stress enough how important it is to have the proper gear if you are going to attempt to hike this mountain. The conditions are extremely dangerous if you are not prepared. Please do not get on the trail if you are wearing low cut shoes. You will need boots and some thing to keep the snow out of your shoes. You do not want to get wet. The wind chill makes it seem even colder on the top."
On the Blue Ridge Parkway, Superintendent Phil Francis took action late Tuesday afternoon to close the entire Parkway, asking motorists to stay off of even ungated portions of the road. "The safety of Park visitors and our employees is first and foremost when it comes to this severe storm," he said. Francis went on to say that as soon as the storm passes officials will inspect the damage and reopen as soon as possible. The closure is expected to last at least through Wednesday. For the latest, dial the Parkway's road status line, recorded every morning (828-298-0398).
Snow accummulation and potential tree damage from high wind varies with elevation, but prior to Francis' announcement, 292 miles of the 469-mile road had already been closed in 15 separate sections. Those ranged from the first 61 miles of the road near Humpback Rocks west of Charlottesville in Virginia, to the final 58 miles of the road from near Asheville to Cherokee, NC. The 38 miles of from NC 80 to Asheville that includes Mount Mitchell is closed, with the state park inaccessible to the public, this morning's temperature at 21 degrees, and 6 inches of new snow.
The snow, expected to continue into Thursday, promises an early start to cross country skiing and snowshoeing in some spots. In the Boone and Blowing Rock area of North Carolina, the Grandfather Mountain section of the Parkway is closed with at least one of the area's ski resorts, Sugar Mountain, scheduled to open for skiing on Halloween, October 31st.
On the Coast
On Cape Cod, winds were gusting above 50 miles in some places in and around the national seashore, and a coastal flood warning was in place into the afternoon.
On Cape Hatteras National Seashore in North Carolina, Highway 12 still was closed in some areas due to floodwaters, and things were expected to get worse with sound-side flooding expected today. The seashore itself was expected to remain closed into Wednesday.
In Virginia, crews were assessing conditions at Richmond National Battlefield Park, which was scheduled to reopen at 10 a.m EDT.
Farther west, at Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore in Indiana, officials closed the Porter Beach (Wabash Avenue) parking lots and the Mt. Baldy and Central Avenue access points to Lake Michigan due to expected lakefront waves and flooding from the storm. The National Park Service’s Portage Lakefront and Riverwalk site were to remain open, but the beach, breakwater, and riverwalk will be closed.
With the weather service predicting winds upwards of 60 miles per hour at the lakeshore through this evening, waves along the southern shore of the lake were expected to build to heights of 20 to 25 feet.
"Visitors are urged to use caution on park trails and at other shoreline locations due to high winds and the possibility of falling trees and branches," the seashore staff warned.