Thursday, December 3, 2009
Winter Operations on the Blue Ridge Parkway
It is that time of year when the Blue Ridge Parkway moves into it's winter operations. What that means to the visiting public is that many sections of the Park will be closed when snow and or ice develop. This policy is often confusing and a bit frustrating for those traveling through the region.
Due to the inconsistent construction and foundation of the pavement of the Blue Ridge Parkway, it does not hold up well to snow plowing operations. This combined with the danger of plowing on sharply elevated road surfaces and descending radius curves are the main reasons why the Parkway is not cleared of snow and ice in all areas. Consequently, some stretches of road may be open and then extended sections at higher elevations closed when it snows.
Contributing to confusion for visitors is when they come to the park and find a gate closed across the road, but there is no visible snow or ice. The Blue Ridge Parkway travels through a quickly changing landscape at varied elevations and aspects. The roadway is most dangerous when temperatures start to warm and melting occurs. Melting during the day can quickly refreeze at night across the road surface. Mountain springs that seep through rock faces along the roadway will freeze preventing the water from draining and it then trails across the road and freezes. You can at times travel for several miles on clear dry pavement and then round a curve ending up in solid ice or snow before you know what has happened.
It is also quite hazardous for park employees to travel these same roads during winter weather to get these gates closed. I had instances during my career when due to surprise storms and lack of personnel it could take up to eight hours to close all the gates in one district of the Blue Ridge Parkway. This can result in hazardous situations for visitors who find themselves in the park during these times.
So if traveling in the Southern Appalachians during the winter it is critical that visitors stay aware of changing weather conditions and plan their routes appropriately. If forecasters are calling for snow or ice, it is much safer to take a longer alternate route then drive at high elevations.
You can also call the Blue Ridge Parkway's information line at (828) 298 0398 to get the latest information on road closures.