A full day of sleet and freezing rain Friday coated roads, downed trees and power lines, and left tens of thousands of Triangle residents without power by nightfall.
About 1,200 wrecks were reported on roads across the state Friday, with three traffic deaths in Johnston, Iredell and Catawba counties, the Highway Patrol said. Johnston, Chatham and Wake counties opened storm shelters to provide respite for people stuck in the cold and dark.
As the wind picked up Friday evening and tore down tree limbs, the number of power outages rose. The number of affected homes of Duke Energy customers nearly doubled from 7 p.m. Friday to midday Saturday.
Duke Energy was reporting as of noon Saturday that 56,000 Wake County customers were without power, as were 27,000 Johnston County customers and 11,500 in Harnett County. Tree limbs and power lines that succumbed to a miserable but potent combination of sleet, snow and freezing rain left nearly 100,000 homes and businesses across the Triangle without power midday Saturday.
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Among those were thousands in Knightdale, Wendell and Zebulon where Duke Energy outage maps on Saturday afternoon estimated power would not be restored until Monday at 11 p.m.
“This area has been hit pretty hard,” said Duke Energy spokeswoman Meredith Archie. “It’s the ice. Snow isn’t a big (factor) as far as electricity goes.”
Archie estimated that tree limbs and power lines were weighed down with between one-quarter inch and one-half inch of ice.
Duke Energy said it doubled the number of repair crews out in the field on Saturday.
“We deploy our crews as we see the outages,” Archie said.
After much of the area was dusted with light snow Saturday morning, the National Weather Service warned that gusty winds as high as 31 miles per hour could fell more trees covered with snow and ice, triggering additional power outages.
Free coffee for public servants
The first hours of the winter storm brought mostly minor auto accidents and forced the closure of most schools and businesses, but nearly everyone had power through Friday morning.
In Wendell, Brown Bag Bagels used Facebook to announce that it was open just after 5 a.m. Friday, and to invite local law enforcement, EMS and firefighters wearing uniforms to stop by for a free coffee.
Owner Norm Fournier, who opened the shop on Main Street in downtown last May, said he always gives discounts to uniformed officers and responders.
“Today, we just wanted to do a little more since they’re out there in that treacherous weather, just to show our appreciation,” Fournier said.
The area saw mostly ice fall Friday morning and into the afternoon.
A couple of firefighters took Fournier up on his offer. He also invited some of Wendell’s public works crew, who were outside shoveling and spreading salt, to come in on the deal.
Fournier rolled the offer over into Saturday, but with the shop losing power that morning, he could not brew coffee or toast bagels. Instead, he sold bagels at discount until he ran out about 1 p.m.
Outage reports pour in
Power issues arose quickly around mid-afternoon Friday as sleet shifted to freezing rain and wind speeds picked up to nearly 30 mph. Power outage reports began to roll in around 3 p.m., first in Johnston and Harnett counties, then in Wake.
By 4:30 p.m., 15,000 Duke Energy customers had lost power in the Triangle. By 7 p.m., the number had grown to about 30,000 in Wake, 23,000 in Johnston and 14,000 in Harnett – more than half of the roughly 115,000 outages reported statewide.
Johnston and Harnett were among the hardest-hit counties in the state, with more than a third of Duke customers there in the dark Friday night.
On Friday night, the National Weather Service predicted a total ice accumulation of 0.25 to 0.5 inches by Saturday morning for Raleigh and areas north and west of the city, including Durham and Chapel Hill. For areas south and east of Raleigh toward Interstate 95, the forecast called for 0.1 to 0.25 inches of ice.
Sledding in the sleet
At first glance, Friday’s weather was not the winter wonderland that 8-year-old Kyle Bayer of Rolesville had hoped for. But he soon realized it was perfect sledding weather.
“We are seeing if some of the other boys can come out so we can take it to the big hill,” his mom, Susan Bayer, said. “Or they may decide to play football.”
Many other Rolesville children followed suit. They went outside in the morning, played for hours, stopped for lunch and then went back outside. Later, they would warm up in front of a movie with hot chocolate.
With schools closed, icy sledding was one of the only options for getting out of the house. Many shops and restaurants closed early Friday or didn’t open at all.
Schools, offices shut down
All schools, and most businesses and government offices were shuttered Friday. And some government services, such as Wake County’s solid waste facilities, planned to remain closed through the weekend.
Go Raleigh buses ended their routes Friday early, with the last buses leaving Moore Square station at 8 p.m.
Raleigh planned to resume bus service Saturday morning.
Staff writers David Ranii, Kathryn Trogdon, Ron Gallagher, Jonathan Alexander and Aaron Moody contributed to this report.