Icy spots on roads and bridges happened as predicted Wednesday morning, causing several accidents that messed up traffic, but the larger question was what meteorological model will prove correct and whether snow will be closer to 3 inches or 9.
The National Weather Service issued a winter storm warning calling for 5 to 9 inches of new snow in Wake, Durham and Orange counties and a bit less east and southeast of Raleigh.
ABC11 meteorologist Don Schwenneker said he expected 3 to 5 inches, with a bit more possible in Wake County, but no one is sure how a storm moving up from Texas will track.
Roads were the immediate problem, however, with Tuesday’s surprise snowfall leaving behind icy spots that caused problems for drivers. Crashes were reported in several places as commute got heavier. There were overturned vehicles, but no reports of major injuries.
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Wake, Durham, Orange, Johnston, Chatham, Harnett, Franklin and Chapel Hill-Carrboro schools closed.
UNC-Chapel Hill delayed classes and office openings until 10 a.m., as did N.C. State University. Duke University canceled classes before 11 a.m. and put employees on the school’s severe-weather policy.
Wake County courts announced that they would open two hours late Wednesday. Durham courts will open at 11 a.m. and Chatham courts at 10 a.m., the state Administrative Office of the Courts said in a website posting.
Johnson County court clerks will open at 10 a.m. and courtrooms at 11 a.m., the state said.
The weather service issued a winter storm warning at 4:30 a.m. Wednesday, saying it goes into effect at 6 p.m. Forecasters first said the storm could could deliver 4 to 6 inches of snow and may cap it with freezing rain or drizzle before it ends late Thursday morning. They upped that to a 5- to 9-inch prediction later in the morning.
“How much cold air gets in here versus how much rain gets in here, that’s the big question.” Schwenneker said.
“It really could change, depending on the path” the storm system takes, Schwenneker said.
Forecasters expected a narrow line to divide snowfall from rain, but computer models differed on where that line would fall.
The storm system was in Texas on Wednesday morning and would take all day to get into the Triangle, causing the uncertainty, Schwenneker said.
Two drivers were killed Tuesday morning when their cars slid off snow-covered roads and struck trees. The state Highway Patrol said Mauricio Anala-Hernandez, 55, of Sanford was killed when his car struck an embankment on U.S. 64 near Rolesville Road in Wake County before hitting a tree. Amber Barraclough, 32, of Jacksonville died on Harris Creek Road in Onslow County. In both cases, troopers concluded that the drivers had exceeded safe speeds for the slippery roadways.
Many commuters had started out for work just as light snow was beginning to fall – only to encounter worsening conditions that prompted some workers to head back home. Across the state, Highway Patrol troopers responded to 1,727 crashes between 6 a.m. and 3 p.m.
The snow that fell Tuesday morning caught many people off guard, including forecasters. The state Department of Transportation had been poised to spray brine on Triangle roads during the day Tuesday, in advance of snowfall that wasn’t expected until the afternoon.
“But the forecasts were all incorrect, and the snow came in a lot earlier this morning,” DOT spokesman Steve Abbott said. “So we had to switch to the salt-and-sand mode and go after it that way.”
Weekend garbage pickup
Already behind on trash pickup because of last week’s weather, Raleigh canceled Tuesday’s trash and recycling collections and made plans to catch up this weekend.
“If necessary, they’re going to be collecting through Sunday,” said city spokesman David Blount. “They'll be making every effort.”
Area towns also were unprepared for the Tuesday morning snowfall. Local road crews moved out onto the streets with salt and sand trucks.
“Fortunately, it started close to the time the crew members were arriving for work, so they were able to hit it early,” Holly Springs town spokesman Mark Andrews said.
Cary mobilized crews as soon as the surprise snow began, the town said.
“There are some slippery spots out there; we’re tackling priority areas, and we urge our citizens and visitors to our town to use caution when out on the streets,” said Scott Hecht, Cary’s public works director.
In Raleigh, police responded to more than 190 accidents between 6 and 11 a.m. Tuesday, compared with only seven during the same period last Tuesday, when an overnight sleet storm kept many people from even venturing out. There were 80 accidents reported in the city of Durham between midnight and 11 a.m. Tuesday, according to Durham 911.
Reporters Andy Kenney, Paul Specht and Will Doran contributed.