NASHVILLE -- A once-in-a-decade winter storm moved across middle Tennessee on Monday, paralyzing traffic and pretty much anything else that moved. Roads and highways were coated with up to 2 inches of ice, then buried by an additional 5 inches of wet, slushy snow. Anyone who hadn't already checked in to a hotel by Sunday night would not be making an appearance at the Technology & Maintenance Council's 2015 Annual Meeting & Transportation Technology Exhibition.
Attendees awoke Monday morning to find ice coating city streets and sidewalks, making driving nearly impossible and even walking treacherous.
"It looked like Christmas morning," said Kevin Burg, who hails from Youngstown, Ohio. "There wasn't a car in sight. It sure wasn't a normal Monday morning for traffic."
One guest staying at a hotel adjacent to the downtown Music City Convention Center reported sliding all the way down 7th street.
"There's a pretty good hill there," said Steve Gooding of Cincinnati. "It was like being 12 years old again. I slid all the way down the street, just hoping I wasn't going to hit a patch of bare pavement."
Others weren't having quite as much fun. Staff from the convention center were shoveling and salting the walkways, but their efforts were quickly overwhelmed by falling snow, sleet and rain.
Attendees to Monday's Task Force meetings had mostly arrived Sunday, just hours ahead of the storm. Attendance was reported as good at the meetings, but anyone who had planned to arrive on Monday had to make other plans.
This year's exhibit hall, with nearly 400 exhibitors in 370,000 square feet of exhibit space, is the largest exhibition in the council's history.
Chris Villavarayan, president of Meritor Americas, said the exhibit hall was not as empty as you might think.
"You wouldn't feel it inside the hall; the hall seems pretty buzzed with activity. On the outside it's amazing, the streets are just completely empty. You stand on the streeets and you can go minutes without seeing a single car. But the hotel lobbies are still full of people and the hall itself is quite full."
Even though far fewer attendees than were registered made it to Nashville, because of the bad condition of the roads, they were more likely to be at the exhibit hall than making side trips for sightseeing or entertainment as some might have in normal years.
ROADS, AIRPORTS CLOSED
Several speakers and presenters were unable to get to Nashville, with the airport closed almost all day Monday due to icy runways and a shortage of de-icing fluid. Most flights were grounded, and with only one of the four runways open, very few flights were getting in either. By Tuesday, the second day of the storm, more than 200 flights had been canceled as of 5:30 p.m. Officials say they hope to have operations back to "close to normal" by late Wednesday.
"We flew to Nashville from Newark," said Yves Provencher of Montreal, Que. "We left Newark on time and even managed to fly in a circle over Nashville for 45 minutes before the pilot decided to go to Atlanta instead. We rented a car there and drove here. It was 30 mph or less all the way."
Interstates 40 and 24 around Nashville were littered with wrecks. Dozens of cars had skidded off highways and jackknifed trucks were everywhere. Several incidents resulted in two of three lanes being blocked, which hampered salting and snow removal efforts. At 6:15 AM Tuesday, TennDOT had closed I-24, declaring it impassable between mile marker 35 and Old Hickory Boulevard.
Police worked through the night to clear a 12-mile backup of vehicles on icy Interstate 40 near Nashville.
Many truck drivers spent the night stuck where they had come to rest the day or evening before. Recovery efforts were rendered impossible by icy conditions and near-impassable highways.
With all the chaos outside, attendance at the Exhibition was a fraction of organizers would have expected under normal conditions.
The 4 to 6 inches of wet, icy snow that fell on Nashville on Monday were more than enough to bring local transit service to a halt. There were reports circulating that taxi service had halted. City buses were grounded for several hours and even the hotel shuttles sat parked, covered by nearly an inch of ice.
MORE COLD ON THE WAY
Temperatures in the Nashville area dipped into minus territory Monday and Tuesday and the cold is expected to linger through the end of the week. One report said the minus 2 degree low expected for Thursday would the lowest temperatures had dropped in the month of February in the 144 years records had been kept for the area.
More snow is expected on Wednesday, but only modest accumulations. Temperatures should be in the low- to mid-20s for the remainder of the week with overnight lows Wednesday dipping to near-zero and -2 on Thursday. Seasonal temperatures are expected to return to the Music City by the weekend.
Editor in Chief Deborah Lockridge contributed to this story.