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RALEIGH -- Most of the Triangle saw only a few snowflakes Tuesday as the southern part of the state received several inches, but it was all just a prelude to a major winter storm that will hit North Carolina hard Wednesday with a dangerous mix of snow and ice.
The National Weather Service warned that a potentially crippling storm will hit the Triangle with 2 to 4 inches of snow and sleet mixed with freezing rain that could add a layer of ice as thick as one-half inch.
The snow is expected to start by midmorning, with the worst ice accumulation continuing into Wednesday night.
State agencies were on alert. Gov. Pat McCrory signed an emergency declaration and urged residents to be ready for ice that could bring down power lines and make driving hazardous Wednesday.
Check your neighbors. Take care of each other, McCrory said Tuesday at a news conference. He urged North Carolinians to have backup heating sources, flashlights and battery-powered radios on hand.
The ominous forecast forced schools and other institutions to cancel or curtail events long before the leading edge of the storm was expected to arrive Wednesday.
Late Tuesday, the Wake County school system announced that schools would be closed Wednesday. Johnston, Harnett and Franklin county schools and Fort Bragg also will be closed, while schools in Orange and Granville counties will be dismissed early. And at N.C. State University, classes will be canceled from noon Wednesday to noon Thursday.
Chatham County Schools announced that schools would be closed for students on Wednesday, but open for employees as an optional work day.
The drive home from work Wednesday afternoon could be very messy.
That all depends on how much ice we get, said Shawna Cokley, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Raleigh. Were going to have some sleet mixed in there about rush-hour time. The worst of it is going to be Wednesday night. If you are able to stay off the roads, I would do that. I would wrap up anything I had to do Wednesday by 6 p.m., 8 p.m. at the latest.
And it depends on where the dividing lines fall on Wednesdays weather map separating colder temperatures with snow and sleet from slightly warmer zones with the most dangerous precipitation: freezing rain.
Duke Energy brought additional repair crews from out of state to be ready to respond to power outages. Many crews will be staged in Greensboro and Florence, S.C., ready to go where they are needed most.
We dont know yet where that will be, Duke Energy spokeswoman Tina Worley said. That line between freezing rain and sleet and snow just keeps moving up and down, and one degree, one way or another. Freezing rain is the worst thing for power lines.
Salt, sand, plows ready
The state Department of Transportation said it will be ready to use salt and sand and snow plows on Triangle roads Wednesday. The seven-county Division Five area, which includes Wake and Durham counties, had 4,800 tons of salt on hand Tuesday and was expected to receive another 800 tons Wednesday from the Wilmington port.
Snow from a smaller storm already was falling across southern counties Tuesday afternoon, with some areas getting three to four inches enough to make driving hazardous on Interstates 40 and 95 in southern Johnston County.
Johnston County schools were among 25 districts that closed Tuesday. Chatham County schools dismissed students at 11 a.m., and Wake Tech closed at 2 p.m. Wake County schools dismissed students an hour early Tuesday and canceled after-school activities.
It is important for local officials to make those good calls and keep school buses off icy roads, Michael Sprayberry, the state emergency management director, told reporters.
Transportation Secretary Tony Tata said Tuesday morning that trucks had covered highways with 1.9 million gallons of brine and 1,500 tons of salt and sand.
McCrory said the emergency declaration would enable him to mobilize the necessary state resources to respond to the storm.
It included a 30-day waiver on weights and service hours for truck drivers who might be needed to provide supplies, restore utility services and clear debris in response to the storm.
Our residents, as well as our livestock industry, need heat and electricity, McCrory said. These declarations are one way that the state can help ensure that goods and services are restored as soon as possible.
Price gouging law in effect
The emergency declaration also triggered a price gouging law that protects consumers from excessive price increases during a disaster, emergency or market disruption.
Many businesses work to help their communities when bad weather strikes, but if you spot anyone using this storm to make an unfair profit off consumers, let us know about it, Attorney General Roy Cooper said in a news release.
Snow and ice were sweeping across the South on Tuesday, with airports in Atlanta, Dallas-Fort Worth and Charlotte each canceling more than 150 flights by midafternoon. Raleigh-Durham International Airport said 20 flights scheduled for Wednesday had already been canceled. Heavier snow was expected west of the Triangle on Wednesday, with more than 10 inches forecast in Charlotte.
Amtrak canceled its Silver Star from New York to Miami on Tuesday and said some of its Silver Star, Silver Meteor, Palmetto, Carolinian and Piedmont trains through North Carolina would be canceled Wednesday.
Staff writer Ron Gallagher contributed.