Shelters were busy, airline flights were delayed and some car batteries lost their spark Tuesday as Triangle residents shuddered through the coldest day in 14 years.
Duke Energy said its customers in the Carolinas had used more energy Tuesday than any previous winter day. The company urged customers to conserve electricity, though it said it had an adequate supply. More than 3,000 Triangle households were without power at least briefly Tuesday, mostly because of transformers that failed and trees that were blown onto power lines overnight.
In upstate New York, where they’re accustomed to chilly weather, a blizzard warning forced the the Buffalo Sabres to postpone their hockey game Tuesday night with the Carolina Hurricanes. The Canes arrived in Buffalo on Monday and were hoping to dig out of the snow in time for a flight home and Thursday’s game with the Toronto Maple Leafs.
The “polar vortex” weather system that has frozen much of the nation this week was expected to stay in the Triangle only briefly.
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Raleigh-Durham International Airport registered 9 degrees early Tuesday morning, a record low for the date and the Triangle’s coldest morning since Jan. 29, 2000. After rising into the 20s during the day and dipping again to a forecast low of about 12 degrees early Wednesday, temperatures were expected to reach the upper 30s by Wednesday afternoon – and keep climbing into the weekend.
“The good news for us is that it didn’t stick around,” WTVD meteorologist Don Schwenneker said. “We’ve got almost a 10-degree increase each day coming over the next five days, and by the weekend we’ll be in the 60s.”
Schools across the Triangle opened two hours late Tuesday, but most were planning to open on time Wednesday. Only Franklin, Granville and Person counties opted to open two hours late for a second day.
Scattered problems were reported with cold school buildings and buses with bad batteries Tuesday. Wake County school managers kept the buildings warm overnight, but furnaces failed Tuesday morning at Hilburn and Harris Creek elementary schools. The heat was restored at both schools before lunchtime, a spokeswoman said.
Homeless shelters flew white flags Monday and Tuesday to indicate that anyone could enter, and police looked for people on the street who needed warm beds for the night.
The South Wilmington Street Shelter in Raleigh, which usually has beds for 234 men, made room Monday night for an additional 83 guests.
“We placed mats on the floor, and we took other space in the building – such as the cafeteria and the information technology room – and we converted those to sleeping areas,” Frank Lawrence, shelter manager, said.
As a second cold night approached, the First Baptist Church of Smithfield said it would open an overnight “warming center” at 7 p.m. Tuesday in its ministry center at 125 S. Fourth St.
The skies were clear Tuesday morning, but a few dozen flights were delayed or canceled for travelers trying to get in and out of RDU.
“The cold weather here is not affecting our flights – it’s the ripple effect from stuff elsewhere,” RDU spokesman Andrew Sawyer said.
Those problems were all over the map, and all airlines were affected.
Delta Air Lines canceled flights into RDU from Philadelphia and Minneapolis, and outbound flights to New York and Indianapolis. American Airlines canceled two inbound flights from Chicago, but its 10:15 flight to Chicago left on time. United Airlines canceled its 10:14 to Chicago, and it canceled a morning flight to Houston.
Big delays were on the departure and arrival boards, too, early in the morning. Southwest was reporting delays of up to 90 minutes for inbound flights from Baltimore, Chicago and Tampa. US Airways had delays from Pittsburgh and Charlotte. Delta reported delays of one to five hours for flights inbound from Indianapolis, Detroit, Atlanta and Boston, and outbound to Boston and Atlanta.
The AAA Carolinas motor club reported a 20 percent increase in calls for roadside assistance Tuesday morning across North Carolina, with a big share of the demand coming from drivers whose batteries had gone dead in the cold.