Snow comes late to Triangle; area schools closed

bsiceloff@newsobserver.com jshaffer@newsobserver.com akenney@newsobserver.comJanuary 28, 2014 

  • Cancellations and delays

    Johnston County schools are closed Wednesday.

    Harnett County schools are closed Wednesday.

    Durham County schools are closed Wednesday.

— A blast of dry air delayed the arrival of snow to the Triangle on Tuesday, causing cancellations, delays and a potentially terrible commute on Wednesday morning.

The National Weather Service reported 1.4 inches of snow had fallen at the Raleigh-Durham International Airport as of 4:36 a.m. Wednesday.

Forecasters originally said the first flakes would arrive midday Tuesday, prompting Wake County schools to call off classes for the day. But Raleigh didn’t see snow until after dark. The National Weather Service said drier-than-expected arctic air ate up the moisture that was supposed to power the snow, throwing off computer models used by forecasters.

A winter storm warning was in effect from the Triangle and Sandhills to the coast until at least 9 a.m. Wednesday. Snow accumulations were expected to reach as high as 8 inches in northeastern North Carolina, while southeastern counties closest to the coast were expected to see as much as a half-inch of ice. East and south of the Triangle, residents contended with sleet before everything was expected to change to snow, the weather service said.

Wake, Durham, Orange, Johnston and Harnett counties and Chapel Hill-Carrboro have canceled school Wednesday, while N.C. State University and N.C. Central University canceled early morning classes. A full list of closings is at newsobserver.com/closings.

In all, forecasters lowered their snowfall predictions by up to an inch because of the dry air. But even after the snow stops, “the roads might be a bit of a nightmare for the morning commute,” said Ryan Ellis, a weather service meteorologist in Raleigh.

And the snow and ice will likely stick around until at least Friday. Temperatures aren’t expected to get much above freezing Wednesday and Thursday and could dip as low as 9 degrees Thursday morning.

A weekend warmup begins Friday afternoon, when temperatures rise into the mid-40s, followed by upper 50s on Saturday.

Emergency declaration

Gov. Pat McCrory declared a state of emergency Tuesday, preparing for a storm that would have a wide effect on the state. The move will give the state access to federal emergency funds.

The state also shifted road maintenance crews from Piedmont and western counties into the eastern half of the state, with DOT workers spraying brine on highways in advance of the snow and preparing snow plows and trucks that would spread salt and sand.

“We are prepared for likely power outages and dangerous driving conditions throughout our state,” McCrory said in a statement. “These executive orders and our capable statewide and local officials will ensure a rapid response to any adverse conditions.”

Meanwhile, DOT’s yellow Incident Management Patrol trucks moved into Johnston County to be ready to help motorists on Interstates 95 and 40. And Michael Sprayberry, the state emergency management director, said National Guard units were being activated and would be ready to help across the state.

With the storm’s unpredictable nature, state officials said they were prepared to realign their forces Wednesday.

“When the sun comes up, we’ll put more resources where they’re needed most,” Transportation Secretary Tony Tata said.

Well before the snow arrived in North Carolina, the changing weather was curtailing air travel across the country, especially in the South. By 4:30 p.m. Tuesday, airlines had canceled 87 flights in and out of Raleigh-Durham International Airport and 257 flights at Charlotte Douglas International, according to the website Flightaware.com, which tracks flight cancellations and delays.

The last departing flight from RDU on Tuesday was scheduled for 7:05 p.m. The airport encouraged people to check the status of their flights at www.rdu.com before leaving home Wednesday.

In fact, anyone venturing out Wednesday should probably check to see if the weather has forced a change of plans. Several state attractions announced they would be closed Wednesday, including the N.C. Zoo, which has now been shuttered four days this month because of wintry weather.

Sleds for sale

The late-arriving snow only deepened the anticipation for some Raleigh residents, who wanted to get out and play in it. By 1:30 p.m. Tuesday, Smith Hardware on Hillsborough Street in Raleigh had sold 70 sleds: the discs that skitter downhill like an unguided missile, the luge-shaped wagons nicknamed “Winter Lightning,” and even a few old reliable Flexible Flyers.

They hung from display carts parked along the street, and drivers dashed in, buying them on impulse well before the first snowflakes massed in the air.

Raleigh firefighter Stephen Welch already has a shed full of sleds at home, but he tossed an extra in the back of his truck. His two kids – Abby, 9, and Bailey, 7 – could always use a spare on their 100-acre Lee County farm.

“They tie them together and pull each other around,” Welch said. “They tend to break them, so this is just insurance so they don’t cry.”

The variety could be baffling. For a Raleigh child experiencing his or her first snow, there’s no frame of reference for buying a sled. Do you go with the sit-up kind, the lie-down kind or the pricier Flyer?

Heather Herring hedged her bets and bought three: two luges and a disc.

“This way they would both have one, and I would maybe have one, too,” said Herring, mother of Wyatt, 8, and Theo, 5.

Of course, the snow won’t be all fun for kids. Wake County’s year-round schools will be in session Saturday to make up for the lost day on Tuesday, while most other Wake schools will have an extra day Feb. 17.

 

Siceloff: 919-829-4527 or newsobserver.com/ roadworrierblog Twitter: @Road_Worrier

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