RALEIGH — The snowfall Tuesday night was lighter across the Triangle than forecasters had predicted, but its effects are expected to linger Thursday with slippery roads and another slew of closings and delays.
Schools will be closed again Thursday in Durham, Chatham, Johnston, Orange and Wake counties, and in Chapel Hill-Carrboro. Classes will be delayed Thursday until 10 a.m. at N.C. State University and 9:30 a.m. at UNC-Chapel Hill, while East Carolina University will remain closed. Duke University returns to its regular schedule.
Temperatures stayed in the 20s during the day Wednesday and were expected to plunge overnight to the single digits. The National Weather Service put the region under a winter weather advisory, effective until noon Thursday, for black ice and snow-covered roadways. Gov. Pat McCrory urged drivers to be careful.
We want to make sure people continue to be safe and use sound judgment as to whether or not they have to get on these roads during these continued difficult conditions throughout North Carolina, McCrory told reporters.
Carl Dawson, Raleighs public works director, said plow-and-salt crews working 12-hour shifts had cleared most major city-maintained streets by Wednesday afternoon.
Raleigh has five priority levels for its streets, ranging from major thoroughfares to small neighborhood cul-de-sacs. The two highest priority categories, Dawson said, are in pretty good shape, and priority three roads cutting through subdivisions were getting salted Wednesday afternoon.
But with limited resources, Dawson doubted that his crews would have time to clear minor neighborhood streets Wednesday. And as temperatures fall Wednesday night, he said, plows and salt trucks wont be much match for the ice.
When it gets to be 5 degrees tonight, anything thats not bare pavement is going to ice, Dawson said. I can put all the salt in the world on it, and its still going to be ice.
That could make for dangerous driving early Thursday morning, but Dawson expects the salt will begin to help once the sun rises. Temperatures are expected to reach the mid-30s Thursday under sunny skies.
Lessons from 2005
Dawsons crews are in a much better position than they were on Jan. 19, 2005, when an unexpected inch of snow turned Raleighs streets into a rush-hour ice-skating rink. The traffic nightmare that ensued prompted city leaders to budget for salt brine equipment, which has made a big difference for recent storms.
Raleigh began brining streets on Monday and covered all major roads before the snow arrived.
As the snow hit that pavement, it started de-icing and didnt allow the snow to bond to the pavement, Dawson said. I think the brine truly contributed to it, and I believe that weve got a much better forecast than we did (in 2005).
Triangle interstate highways were clear by mid-morning Wednesday. City and Department of Transportation road crews shifted their focus to other highways and secondary roads, hoping to scrape away as much snow as possible before nightfall.
The focus right now is on primary roads and trying to make sure that theyre sanded and salted and cleared so that tonight, as freezing temperatures get even lower, the potential for black ice is less, Transportation Secretary Tony Tata told reporters. Youll never reduce it completely or eliminate it completely, but we want to lessen it. Because that really becomes the big killer in this kind of storm the black ice, and particularly at night.
Snow and ice caused traffic problems across the state. Two people died Tuesday in separate crashes on icy roads in Surry County, in northwestern North Carolina. In Raleigh, police handled 68 vehicle accidents between 6 p.m. Tuesday and 11 a.m. Wednesday, compared to 19 during the same period last week.
DOT shifted more maintenance crews from the Triad area to eastern counties, which got more snow, often over a layer of ice. In all, DOT said, 2,706 department employees spread 37,427 tons of sand and salt on state roads Tuesday and Wednesday.
Falling is No. 1 hazard
At Triangle hospitals, injuries from automobile accidents were far outnumbered by falls and sledding accidents.
Absolutely, falls are the number one injury that we see during the winter weather, said Kristin Kelly, a spokeswoman for WakeMed.
The hospital systems emergency rooms also saw several sledding-related injuries, though an exact count wasnt immediately available. Among the injured were a number of adults, Kelly said.
Just because youre big, doesnt mean you dont have to wear a helmet, she said.
The emergency rooms arent the only places seeing snow victims. In all, about two dozen sledding and slipping injuries made up 20 percent of the patients at Rex Healthcares express care satellite sites, while its Raleigh emergency room saw 10 weather-related patients.
Johnston Medical Center-Smithfield treated an adult who fractured a bone while sledding, along with a mix of more-minor sledding injuries, quite a few people injured in falls, and several older people who complained of chest pain after shoveling and sweeping, according to spokeswoman Suzette Rodriguez.
When the sun came out this afternoon, people probably got out and about, Rodriguez said. I guess everybodys getting ready for tomorrow, or they just have cabin fever.
Car crash injuries were relatively rare in comparison at all the local hospitals, their representatives said.
A few have come in, Kelly said. But I think people are really heeding the advice of staying off the roads, which hopefully theyll continue to do.
Why it wasnt worse
The official measure at Raleigh-Durham International Airport was 1.4 inches of snow Tuesday night and early Wednesday well below the 5 inches that the weather service had said might accumulate. Volunteer weather spotters around Wake County reported more snow, as much as 4 inches near Wendell.
The storm brought less snow than expected partly because the arctic air that drove into the state proved to be drier than computer models had suggested, the National Weather Service said. Some of the moisture from a low-pressure system along the coast saturated the air before snow could fall. The situation was similar to putting a new, dry sponge under a faucet, where it has to soak up water and soften before any can be squeezed out of it.
The highest snow total reported by the weather service was 7 inches in Kinston. Manteo got 6 inches, and Raeford in Hoke County had 4 inches.
Slow return to normal
Crews at Raleigh-Durham International Airport had cleared runways, and the airport was open for planes, but flights were a mixed bag of on-time departures and cancellations, and officials urged travelers to check with airlines before getting on the road to RDU.
Many of the businesses and government offices that were shuttered Wednesday planned to reopen Thursday, though icy roads meant many would open late. The N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences, for example, planned to open at noon Thursday, but the N.C. Zoo will remain closed a third straight day.
One organization hoping things get back to normal is the American Red Cross, which was forced to cancel blood drives and close collection centers because of the icy roads. It was urging eligible donors of all blood types to make appointments to replenish the blood supply online at redcrossblood.org or by telephone at 1-800-733-2767.
Reporters Ron Gallagher and Caitlin Owens contributed