Closings and delays begin for Triangle, but winter’s worst may arrive on Wednesday

akenney@newsobserver.comFebruary 10, 2014 

  • Essentials cleared first

    The state’s Department of Transportation is publishing its road-clearing priorities ahead of the storm, hoping to stem the public’s inevitable questions.

    In this order, DOT crews first treat:

    • Interstates

    • Four-lane divided highways

    • Other routes “essential to moving traffic”

    Next, the trucks tackle:

    • Secondary roads and streets

    • Neighborhood roads

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RALEIGH -- A winter storm could march into the Triangle as early as Tuesday night, dumping snow and freezing rain in what could be the area’s worst winter weather to date.

The storm will arrive from the south, with an early burst of snow and ice expected to reach as far north as Johnston County early Tuesday. The forecast prompted Johnston County Tuesday morning to close schools for students and make it an optional teacher workday for staff.

The most dangerous conditions, though, are expected to arrive with the mid-week storm.

“It’s going to be a mess, basically. All signs point to that,” said Chris Hohmann, chief meteorologist for WTVD. “It’s still two days out, so I don’t want to sound too many alarms, but it could be a significant winter storm.”

The mid-week storm could cover two thirds of the state, Hohmann said. Unlike the snowfall that closed schools for days in January, though, this event is expected to hit the inland center of the state hardest.

“It’s probably going to be a more potent storm,” Hohmann said.

Significant snow accumulation in the Triangle and north-central North Carolina could begin late Tuesday night or early Wednesday, according to the National Weather Service, and may be joined later by sleet and freezing rain, making for dangerous roads.

The weather service declared a winter storm watch from Tuesday night through Thursday afternoon for much of central and eastern North Carolina, including Wake, Durham, Orange and Johnston counties; a watch means that some combination of heavy snow and ice is expected but not imminent.

Johnston County also has a lower-grade weather advisory that began Monday night and lasts through Tuesday afternoon, during which ice and up to 3 inches of snow could accumulate.

For the rest of the Triangle, the weather service predicted a 30 percent chance of snow Tuesday, a 70 percent chance of snow for Wednesday and a 70 percent chance of wintry mix for Thursday.

Path of the storm

Forecasters expect the storm to work its way northeastward, from the Gulf Coast toward North Carolina. A simultaneous cold front will make the precipitation possible.

Once the storm makes its way to the northern part of the state, the Triad and mountains likely will see more snow than the Triangle, according to the National Weather Service. Coastal areas can expect more rain than snow. Even so, the weather’s effects likely will be widespread and could make commutes dangerous.

N.C. Department of Transportation crews began to prepare roads for the ice as early as Sunday. By Monday evening, DOT trucks had spread brine – a mix of salt and water – on interstates, four-lane divided highways and essential routes, according to Marla Roth, a department spokeswoman.

Crews will be out again Tuesday to check the condition of roads across the state and possibly spread more brine ahead of the second blast of weather. For now, the state – and its residents – are waiting to see what happens.

“It’s going to impact traffic, we just don’t know to what degree,” Roth said. “It keeps changing. It’s fickle.”

The Wake County Public School System, which was closed for four days by a winter storm two weeks ago, was already fending off questions from students and parents Monday evening.

“School is on for tomorrow. If anything changes, we’ll let you know in the a.m.” the school system announced on Twitter. “Happy? Us too.”

Kenney: 919-829-4870; Twitter: @KenneyNC

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