Sevier County got a white Christmas in 2020. And in 2020 fashion, the snow created serious problems for tourists and residents alike.
After the snowstorm hit Sevier County, a power outage affected tens of thousands of people, led to car accidents and stranded motorists on icy roads.
So this year, we thought it might be helpful to talk about something that doesn’t always happen often around these parts and what to do when it does.
Does it snow in the Smoky Mountains?
You may not like the answer to this question, dear reader, but the answer is … sometimes!
Overall, snow is not common in the Smoky Mountains, but it does happen.
And when heavy snow does fall, it can usually derail plans and create treacherous road conditions.
Weather can be unpredictable, especially in East Tennessee. While you can expect temperatures in the higher elevations to be much cooler compared to lower elevations, a deceivingly warm December day can still turn into a very cold winter night.
So what do you do if it snows in Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg? Here are 8 tips on avoiding a bad outcome in the snow around the Smoky Mountains:
8. Have a backup light and heat source
If weather conditions do get rough in the Smoky Mountains, it’s possible that you could lose power, as many folks found out Christmas 2020.
It’s a good idea to pack a backup light source, such as a flashlight or battery-operated lantern.
And better yet, bring a backup heat source, just in case.
Know if your cabin has a gas or wood-burning fireplace. You may also want to consider a battery-powered portable heater, extra blankets or a portable power station.
7. Print your directions (the old-fashioned way)
I know, you’re probably scoffing at this. Printing out directions feels so … 1990s.
But, GPS service, even on a good day, is spotty up in the mountains. You don’t want to be lost on a mountain with a car full of screaming kids in the backseat with an impending snowstorm in the forecast.
Get good directions before you start your journey, and have them on-hand before you start your drive.
Whether you print them out, take screenshots, or make hand-written notes, don’t rely on the internet to make it to your destination.
You can thank me later.
6. Stock up on groceries early (before your arrival)
Anytime we rent a cabin way up in the mountains, we always pack the car with non-perishables before we start the journey.
Try to hit up the grocery store on your way up the mountain (before you arrive) and consider bringing an ice chest.
Our pre-cabin shopping list usually includes:
- Bottled water
- Travel soaps, shampoos and lotions
- Toilet paper
- Dish detergent (if you plan on cooking)
- Laundry detergent
- Food and snacks
As you pack and prep for meals, consider the possibility that you could lose power.
5. Keep a list of delivery services
Delivery service is hit or miss up in the mountains. If you can’t make it down the mountain, a delivery person may not be able to either.
But that being said, sometimes delivery folks are better equipped and more familiar with the roads.
Consider making a list of places that will deliver to your location. Even if road conditions aren’t an issue, it can still come in handy.
4. Know your cancellation policy
Whether you’re renting a cabin or getting a hotel, always be familiar with the cancellation policy when you book your trip.
If your trip is approaching and the weather seems questionable, consider postponing for another time if you will be driving during bad conditions.
But either way, knowing that you have options can make you feel better about booking your trip.
3. Keep an eye on road closures
If you see conditions worsen, keep an eye out for road closures and current conditions.
“Some motorists chose to ignore warnings from local authorities and later had to be rescued,” said Walt Cross, chief of the Grassy Fork Volunteer Fire Department, in a 2020 interview with The Citizen Tribune.
“We set up cones to divert motorists but they chose to believe their GPS over us, and they drove around the cones. We are having to pull them out. If you are not from around here, don’t follow your GPS. Talk to local folks and follow their directions.”
Check with The National Park Service (NPS) for live updates. A good Twitter follow is Smokies Road Info.
2. Prepare your car with tire chains (or bring a 4WD)
It’s not always necessary to have a four-wheel-drive when you visit the Smoky Mountains, but it can help.
And if you think there’s a chance it will snow during your visit, yes, you might want to consider bringing snow chains for your tires.
I will note here that some of these roads are scary even in dry conditions. These roads have steep inclines with very little room for error (and often no guard rails).
Even if you do have chains, remember that snow chains will not make you invincible when it comes to driving on mountainous ice, which brings us to our final tip …
1. When in doubt, go without
At the end of the day, no vacation or amount of money is worth compromising your safety. Please use the utmost caution if you’re thinking about being out and about on icy roads.
What are YOUR best tips for snow in the Smoky Mountains? Let us know in the comments!