Crews clear snow from major Triangle roads, but icy hazards persist; schools closed

bsiceloff@newsobserver.com akenney@newsobserver.com ccampbell@newsobserver.comJanuary 29, 2014 

  • Trash and recycling collection

    Cary: Wednesday’s collection will be picked up Thursday, Thursday’s collection will be completed Friday, and Friday’s collection will be moved to Saturday.

    Durham: Wednesday’s collection will be picked up Thursday.

    Raleigh: All recycling, garbage and yard waste normally collected Wednesday will be collected Thursday; Thursday’s routes will be collected Friday, and Friday’s routes will be serviced Saturday.

    Orange County: Wednesday’s curbside recycling will be picked up Saturday.

    Wake Forest: Wednesday’s collection will be picked up Thursday; Thursday’s route will be collected Friday; and Friday’s collection will be moved to Saturday.

  • Tips for staying safe

    On the road:

    • Clear windows and mirrors before getting started.

    • Reduce speed and leave plenty of room between you and other vehicles.

    • Approach bridges and overpasses with caution and do not apply your brakes while on a bridge unless necessary.

    • Anticipate black ice. Watch for thin sheets of ice that may appear as wet pavement. Often ice will appear in the morning, in shady spots or anywhere melted snow refreezes at night.

    • If you begin to slide, take your foot off the gas and turn the steering wheel in the direction of the slide. Do not apply the brakes as that will cause further loss of control of the car.

    • Come to a complete stop or yield the right of way when approaching an intersection in case any drivers coming from other directions lose control while trying to stop.

    • If you have a cellphone, take it with you. You can contact the Highway Patrol statewide by calling *HP (*47) or call local law enforcement by dialing 911. But don’t call 911 to check on road conditions.

    At home:

    • Be careful when using supplemental heating units. Make sure all combustible materials, such as drapes or chairs, are at least three feet away from any heating unit.

    • Avoid using propane heaters inside or flammable liquids to start fireplaces and do not leave a fireplace unattended. Check smoke detectors to make sure they are working properly.

    • If possible, bring outside pets indoors during cold snaps, especially at night when temperatures dip to their lowest.

    • Check in on neighbors and family members who may be more susceptible to cold weather conditions, such as the elderly or disabled.

    Sources: N.C. Department of Transportation; city of Raleigh

  • School makeup days

    Students throughout the Triangle will now have classes on Feb. 17 – Presidents Day – to make up for snow days caused by the winter storm.

    In Wake County, where schools were closed both Tuesday and Wednesday, traditional-calendar students will now have classes on Feb. 17 and April 21 – Easter Monday.

    Wake’s year-round students will have classes on two Saturdays – Feb. 1 and May 31, and modified-calendar students will have school on Feb. 17 and March 10.

    Wake’s early college and single-sex leadership academy students will make up the days on May 29 and May 30.

    Subject to change by the Johnston County school board, traditional-calendar and year-round students will make up Wednesday on Feb. 17 and early college and middle college students will have classes May 23.

    The Chapel Hill-Carrboro school system will make up Wednesday on Feb. 17. The district has already announced that the makeup day for Thursday will be March 28.

    In Durham, traditional-calendar students will go to school Feb. 17. Year-round students will make up Wednesday on Feb. 14. The makeup day hasn’t been set for early college and middle college students.

    In Orange County, Feb. 28 is listed as the next make-up day, but school officials said Wednesday the date is under review. Students already had Feb. 17 scheduled as a regular school day.

  • Cancellations

    Schools closed Thursday:

    → Chapel Hill-Carrboro

    → Chatham County

    → Durham County

    → Franklin County

    → Granville County

    → Harnett County

    → Johnston County

    → Orange County

    → Wake County

— 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, Raleigh’s 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 won’t be much match for the ice.

“When it gets to be 5 degrees tonight, anything that’s not bare pavement is going to ice,” Dawson said. “I can put all the salt in the world on it, and it’s 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

Dawson’s crews are in a much better position than they were on Jan. 19, 2005, when an unexpected inch of snow turned Raleigh’s 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 didn’t allow the snow to bond to the pavement,” Dawson said. “I think the brine truly contributed to it, and I believe that we’ve 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 they’re 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. “You’ll 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 system’s emergency rooms also saw several sledding-related injuries, though an exact count wasn’t immediately available. Among the injured were a number of adults, Kelly said.

“Just because you’re big, doesn’t mean you don’t have to wear a helmet,” she said.

The emergency rooms aren’t the only places seeing snow victims. In all, about two dozen sledding and slipping injuries made up 20 percent of the patients at Rex Healthcare’s “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 everybody’s 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 they’ll continue to do.”

Why it wasn’t 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

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

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