Winter Storm Helena greeted Johnston County with an icy slush and shut down most public facilities for the weekend.
The snow began falling in the early-morning hours Saturday and continued into the afternoon. The county seemed spared power outages from ice-heavy power lines, with only isolated issues here and there in Johnston. According to Duke Energy’s outage map, only one house in Flowers Plantation near Clayton was without power Saturday morning, but the company had the lights there back on by noon. Later, a street of homes near Little Creek Church Road went out for a couple hours Saturday afternoon
As the wintry forecast solidified late last week, state and town crews began applying brine to roads, with N.C. Department of Transportation trucks starting Thursday afternoon and Clayton and Smithfield treating their streets Friday ahead of the storm.
Once snow began falling, crews switched to sand and rock salt and started plowing the roads. On Twitter, the DOT said the brine-rock salt sequence was to save money, with a mile of brine costing $6 and a mile of rock salt $14.
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Kevin Madsen of Johnston County Emergency Services said the county had been following the forecast since last Monday and took part in daily briefings with the National Weather Service. Gov. Roy Cooper declared a state of emergency for North Carolina on Thursday. For local agencies, that meant faster deployment of state and National Guard resources, Madsen said.
“We’ve been in contact on a daily basis and have been working well with the state,” he said.
On Saturday, even when the sun broke through the clouds, temperatures in the 20s kept the roadways icy in many places. At the time, Cooper urged residents to stay off the roads if possible.
“This storm is not over, so please stay off the roads and use extra caution if you absolutely must drive,” Cooper said in a statement Saturday.
From midnight to noon Saturday, the N.C. Highway Patrol said troopers responded to 460 calls for service and 260 accidents.
Weekend plans mostly fell by the wayside as towns prepared for the storm. Clayton canceled a full day of youth basketball games at the Clayton Community Center; that was 36 games in all. The library and town hall were also closed for the weekend, canceling Sunday church services for a congregation that meets at The Clayton Center. In Smithfield, a Saturday volleyball tournament at the Smithfield Recreation and Aquatics Center was called off, but town spokesman Tim Kerrigan said Smithfield hoped to open the gym by Sunday afternoon.
A snowstorm on a Saturday helped cut cars on the roads to a minimum, which Smithfield officials said helped crews plow the streets and cut down on accidents.
“We ask that citizens have all the essentials at home: food, supplies, backup power if possible, batteries,” Kerrigan said. “Keeping the roads clear allows emergency personnel to be on the road when needed and minimize any injuries. A major thing we always ask for during any loss of power is to be careful with secondary sources of heat – fireplaces, space heaters. And people should not be utilizing their ovens for heat.”
Clayton prepared to shut down major trouble spots around town by positioning barricades near North O’Neil Street and on Amelia Church Road. The town also cautioned residents about possible slick spots on Glen Laurel Road and N.C. 42 East. Clayton had no widespread power outages, but crews were prepared to deal with them if they popped up.
“We can see where the outages are in our system, but we do want people to call us when they have an outage, which helps us understand how far-reaching the outage may be,” town spokeswoman Stacy Beard said.
The Johnston County Schools had made no decision beforehand on classes Monday, but the school system and Johnston Community College canceled weekend activities and sporting events.