Roads get slippery and residents stay home as ice blankets Triangle

Traffic death reported in Wendell; roads could remain icy until midday

ablythe@newsobserver.comJanuary 25, 2013 

  • An early release day gets even earlier School systems across the Triangle already had decided to release students early Friday afternoon as the wintry weather threatened. But those short days for students got even shorter by midmorning. Wake County – which had planned to dismiss students three hours early – decided to close four hours early instead. “Any time we make a decision about the weather, we are continuing to monitor the situation,” said Mike Charbonneau, Wake schools spokesman. “We decided to update our closing times to four hours early, just to get those buses out of there before there were any problems on the road.” The situation was the same for other Triangle systems. Chatham County, which originally planned to dismiss students at 11:30 a.m., instead sent them home as early as 10:30 a.m.
  • Weather rollercoaster to continue Triangle temperatures are expected to be all over the weather map in the next five days. On Saturday, the high is expected to be 47 degrees, with lows in the mid-20s. Temperatures are expected to stay in the mid-40s on Sunday, too, and not drop below freezing. Monday will offer average winter temperatures for the Triangle, with highs in the mid-50s and lows in the high 40s. Tuesday is expected to bring a blast of warmth, with highs near 70 degrees and lows in the high 50s. Wednesday could offer similar temperatures, weather forecasters say, with a chilly blast returning by week’s end.

The winter storm that glazed the Triangle with an icy coating Friday left behind a slippery mess that’s expected to cling to roads until midday Saturday.

Schools closed early. Events were canceled. Many workers left for home long before routine rush hours, and some did not make it into the office at all.

Emergency workers and squadrons of salt trucks put in a long day Friday, tending to wrecks and trying to fend off others with fresh brine and sand.

As the storm hit, one person was killed in Wendell in a two-vehicle accident around 2 p.m. at the intersection of Whitley Way and Wendell Boulevard. Stanley Thompson, 62, of Selma died in the wreck that also injured four others. Wendell Police Chief Bill Carter said weather was a contributing factor in the crash. Taken to WakeMed were Charlena Thompson, 35, and Shieda Johnson, 17, both of Selma, and Karin Knapp, 27, and Rebecca Knapp, 25, both of Wendell.

A Wake County school bus filled with 21 North Ridge Elementary school students slid off Fox Road about noon Friday. Two passengers were taken to the hospital as a precautionary measure, according to Wake County school officials. Others were picked up by their parents or taken home on a different bus.

Though there was little precipitation after early Friday evening, weather forecasters and emergency workers urged residents throughout the Triangle to get a slow start Saturday. Black ice is expected to make travel treacherous until early afternoon. By then, forecasters predict, the sun and temperatures expected to climb into the 40s will melt the remnants of the storm.

Below-average temperatures are expected to chill the Triangle for the rest of the weekend, forecasters say. Tuesday and Wednesday are expected to offer a brief respite from the cold, with temperatures in the 60s.

But Gail Hartfield, a forecaster at the National Weather Service office in Raleigh, said another blast of lower-than-average temperatures are expected to chill the Triangle at the end of the week.

The storm that pushed through the Triangle on Friday arrived earlier than expected.

Emergency crews had prepared for its arrival for days, spraying a briny mixture on heavily traveled paths and sprinkling sand for traction.

Traffic on Interstate 40 was slowed to a crawl across south Raleigh and south into Johnston County on Friday afternoon.

Sgt. Jeff Gordon, a Highway Patrol spokesman, said it took him an hour to drive the seven miles between Hammond Road and U.S. 70.

“You can go five miles and it will be slick, then another two miles and it isn’t, and that tricks people,” Gordon said. “They increase their speed again, and then they get to another area where the precipitation has come down and it has frozen on the road. They hit a patch, hit their brakes and lose control, and off onto the shoulder they go.”

Local school systems – already planning to release students early – ended up dismissing them even earlier. In some cases, the curbed schedules meant students ate lunch at midmorning and then went home.

Rescheduled SAT

Officials were rescheduling SAT tests and other events that had been planned for Saturday.

University classes were canceled beginning at noon Friday for students across the Triangle. Libraries, parks and courthouses closed.

Many parents left their jobs early to care for children who had been sent home from school or day care.

Some stopped at grocery stores with plans to settle in at home.

“My kid got kicked out of school and we had no choice,” James Jackson of Raleigh said.

Jackson picked up some milk, eggs and beer – for the UNC-NCSU men’s basketball game scheduled Saturday – at a crowded Harris Teeter in Raleigh’s Cameron Village. But he wasn’t complaining about the weather. “I love it,” Jackson said. “I love the inconvenience. It would have been awesome if it had been on a Tuesday, so I could have gotten out of work Wednesday.”

Andrea Highsmith of Raleigh waited 20 minutes in the checkout line to pay for her groceries. She worried about losing a chance to make money at her workplace, the Cameron Bar and Grill.

“I’m supposed to go into work tonight, but I won’t be,” said Highsmith, 24. “And that’s going to be (a loss of) tips.”

The Highway Patrol logged more than seven times the number of routine calls, responding to nearly 200 reports of accidents and disabled cars by late afternoon Friday.

“The roads are very slick,” Gordon said. “We have a lot of congestion out on the highways where people came to work early this morning and are trying to migrate back home now.”

WTVD meteorologist Don Schwenneker predicted that as heavier precipitation began coming down Friday afternoon, the traditional afternoon rush hour would be bad. Luckily, many drivers already were home by then.

“But the most dangerous part of your day may be the walk from the car to your door,” Schwenneker added.

Creeping along U.S. 70

In the early evening, U.S. 70 between Raleigh and Clayton – normally crowded with workers heading home to Johnston County and points east for the weekend – was nearly empty of cars. The motorists who were on the dark, slushy and slick highway were creeping along, sticking to the tire tracks laid down by earlier commuters. Speeds rarely exceeded 25 mph, with the occasional abandoned car in the median or on the side of the highway a reminder of the treacherous conditions.

Fresh in Raleigh’s mind was the “snow-pocalypse of 2005,” when less than an inch of snow dropped on the city and snarled roads so badly that 3,000 students were stranded at school overnight.

Staff writers Matt Caulder, Johnny Whitfield, Kelly Poe, Meghan McMullen and Dan Barkin contributed to this report.

Blythe: 919-836-4948

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