RALEIGH — A big threat for drivers on tree-shaded country roads Thursday wasnt the black ice everybody talks about. It was the solid white stuff, hard-packed and slick.
On the second day after a modest winter storm poured 2 to 3 inches of snow across the Triangle, many miles of secondary roads were still coated with snow that had not been melted by the sun or scraped away by the state Department of Transportation.
A lady stopped on the ice in front of me, coming up this hill, said Barry Singleton, 48, standing beside his pickup truck in a ditch on Banks Road in southern Wake County on Thursday morning. I tried to turn around in the driveway here, and when I came back out, I just slid right off the road.
Ashleigh Nelson, who lives in the neighborhood, stood guard at the top of the hill to warn approaching drivers on Banks Road.
Weve got slippery ice on the road, multiple vehicles in the ditch, and theres no place to turn around once you get down there, said Nelson, 42. They need to turn around here while theyve still got traction.
Road conditions varied across southern Wake County, as they did in the rest of the Triangle. Long stretches of West Lake, Holly Springs and Ten Ten roads were mostly clear by noon Thursday. But snow and ice still covered sections of other roads, including Penny, Lake Wheeler and Optimist Farm especially where the pavement was shaded by trees blocking the low winter sun.
Thats one reason Triangle area school officials decided to delay or cancel schools again Friday. Schools in Wake, Franklin, Granville, Harnett and Johnston counties will remain closed. Durham and Orange county schools will delay opening by three hours, and Chapel Hill-Carrboro will open two hours late.
Its the fourth straight day without classes in Wake County, where officials felt compelled to explain their decision on the districts Facebook page Thursday evening.
This decision comes after extensive staff evaluation of secondary and neighborhood road conditions, especially in outlying areas; school parking lots, school access roads and carpool lanes, the statement read.
Wake first called off school Monday night, in advance of the storm. It had been expected to arrive around noon Tuesday, but snow did not reach the Triangle until around sundown, after the school day was over.
Prefer to keep it safe
Wake County school board Vice Chairman Tom Benton said he told Superintendent Jim Merrill he made the right decision Monday night based on the information he had at the time. He said school board members have received few complaints about school being closed this week.
When parents saw what happened in Atlanta, they thought it could have happened here, Benton said.
The storm caught school officials in Atlanta by surprise this week, and thousands of school children there were forced to sleep in schools Tuesday night.
Benton was a middle school principal in Raleigh during the 2005 ice fiasco. A Jan. 19 storm created traffic gridlock on icy roads, and nearly 3,000 Wake students spent the night in school because their buses couldnt get them home. Benton stayed at Durant Road Middle School in North Raleigh that night with 200 students who slept in their classrooms.
Amy Boggs, a Wake Forest parent of a high school student, also remembers what it was like in 2005 when it took her more than three hours just to get to her daughters school to pick her up. Boggs said she supported closing schools Tuesday and backs keeping them closed Friday.
I would prefer to keep it safe, she said. I know Wake County is very large. Some streets are in better shape than others.
DOT crews were able to get almost all interstate and other major highways clear and dry with an all-out effort Wednesday, but there are simply too many miles of secondary roads to clear them all quickly.
Crews also faced a chemistry problem, because salt spread on ice works less as the temperature drops and not at all when conditions are as cold as they were Thursday morning. The overnight low of 7 degrees tied the record for Jan. 29 at Raleigh-Durham International Airport.
But by midday Thursday, the temperature rose above the freezing mark for the first time since Monday. DOT officials said they expected to have all secondary roads clear by Friday afternoon, when temperatures are expected to reach the upper 40s.
With the help of warmer temperatures and sunshine, we hope to make significant strides today in our effort to return roads to pre-storm conditions, Transportation Secretary Tony Tata told reporters Thursday afternoon.
Still, drivers will continue to find slippery spots Friday. Temperatures were expected to fall below 20 degrees Thursday night, so there will be places where snow that melted on the road will freeze again overnight creating those slick, shiny patches on the asphalt known as black ice.
Gov. Pat McCrory asked drivers to be careful.
It doesnt matter how experienced you are as a driver, McCrory told reporters Thursday. No one can safely drive on black ice.
Any lingering snow and ice will likely disappear this weekend, when temperatures are expected to reach the mid-50s on Saturday and top 60 on Sunday.
Reporter Katie Reilly and photographer Chris Seward contributed to this report.