Preparations Underway for Hurricane Irma

Great Smoky Mountains National Park officials have begun preparations for high winds and heavy rains associated with Hurricane Irma. Preliminary estimations from the National Weather Service suggest that the storm will pass the park Monday during the day, overnight into Tuesday and continue early Wednesday.
 
Tropical storm winds of 40-70 mph could be experienced with higher gusts in the upper elevations.  Rainfall is expected to be anywhere from 4-7 inches. Historically, flooding, landslides, road washouts, and numerous tree falls along roadways and trails are associated with these types of weather conditions.
 
On Thursday, the park began notifying backcountry users registered through the backcountry reservation system of the potential weather related threats. All backcountry reservation holders for Sunday through Thursday are being advised that backcountry use during this time is not recommended.  Officials are encouraging reservationists to alter their trip plans, offering refunds to those who will be unable to reschedule their trip for an alternative date.
 
Campers in the park’s front country campgrounds are also being alerted at check-in of the potential hazards associated with this storm and are being advised that mandatory evacuations may be implemented as early as Sunday afternoon. Many of the Park’s 1,000 campsites are located next to rivers and creeks which rise quickly during extreme rain events.  Also, downed trees across roadways can restrict access to areas causing visitors to become trapped. 

Park officials are closely monitoring the path of Irma and will implement additional preparations as weather forecasts further develop.  If Irma continues on her projected path, wide spread closures may be in effect as soon as Sunday afternoon and may include facilities, campgrounds, backcountry campsites and/ or roads in anticipation of the storm to ensure the safety of our staff and visitors.
 
“Staff and visitor safety is at the forefront of all of our planning efforts” said Smokies Chief Ranger Steven Kloster, who is coordinating the preparations. “We will continue to monitor the projected path of Hurricane Irma and will base all decisions on current and predicted weather conditions.” 
 
Park officials have also been in contact with neighboring emergency management agencies to coordinate communications and planning efforts. The headwaters of many of the rivers that flow through neighboring towns are inside the Smokies.  Rangers will be monitoring streams and rivers to provide advance warning of possible flash flooding to the local communities.