Thursday, May 5, 2011

National Park trails close after EF-4 tornado ripped up 4,500 trees - Smoky Mountains

GATLINBURG, Tenn. (WVLT) -- A tornado damaged 27 miles of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Blount County.

An EF-4 hit the park and has shut down several trails.

Park Ranger Bob Miller said, "These trees are all tangled up together so if you go into with a chain saw you have to make sure you cut the right trees in the right order, or you'll have trees that are under tension and they'll snap and hit you."Rangers estimate about 4,500 trees toppled, with wind speeds up to 170 miles per hour, and the large root balls left the trails impassable.
Miller said the most popular trail affected is Abrams Falls, so they're focusing on clearing that trail first and hope to have it open again by Memorial Day. But, the other trails will likely be closed for months.
Miller said, "We always thought mountains kind of disrupted tornadoes and it didn't happen in this case, that tornado survived a lot of really rough terrain."

The Great Smoky Mountains web site is confirming that the storms that ripped through the western end of the Park last Wednesday contained an EF-3 tornado (the National Weather Service, however, is stating that the tornado produced an EF-4, with maximum wind speeds ranging from 165 to 170 miles per hour. The path of the tornado began near Chilhowee Lake and moved northeast into the western portion of theNational Park, and was on the ground for 20 miles. ()The maximum path width was one mile).
As more assessments of the extensive damage are being conducted, the Park has moved to close several more trails on the west end of Cades Cove. The trails will be closed until futher notice. Here's the current list of closures:

• Abrams Falls Trail

• Ace Gap Trail

• Beard Cane Trail

• Hannah Mountain Trail is closed from Rabbit Creek Trail junction to Abrams Falls/Little Bottoms Trails junction.

• Hatcher Mountain Trail

• Little Bottoms Trail is closed from Campsite 17 to Abrams Falls/Hannah Mountain Trails junction

• Rabbit Creek Trail is closed from Abrams Creek Campground to Hannah Mountain Trail junction

• All trails leaving from the Abrams Falls trailhead and Abrams Creek Ranger Station are closed to horse riding due to downed trees.

If you haven't seen this yet, here's a NPS photo of the damage on the Beard Cane Trail:

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