Inches of heavy, wet snow, along with sleet and freezing rain, fell on power lines and tree limbs overnight, leaving more than 130,000 Duke Energy customers without electricity across the Triangle early Thursday.
The National Weather Service said that snow accumulations might reach a foot in northern sections. Unofficial totals as of 4 a.m. ran from just under 5 inches in parts of Wake County to more than 7 inches in Person County.
At 6:30 a.m., Duke Energy reported more than 130,000 customers had no power in the Triangle counties.
School was canceled in Wake, Durham, Orange, Chatham and Johnston counties as well as Chapel Hill-Carrboro schools.
Duke University canceled Thursday classes, and UNC-Chapel Hill canceled classes “until at least noon.” N.C. State University canceled all classes before 10 a.m.
“We’re seeing lots of breaks in the snow now,” ABC11 meteorologist Don Schwenneker said in a 6:30 a.m. update on the storm. “I think we’re done with this about 7, 8 this morning.”
“Our goal now is not to have any other casualties or serious injuries,” Gov. Pat McCrory told reporters at a news briefing Wednesday.
Two drivers died on snow-covered highways Tuesday morning when their cars skidded into trees. That snowfall, which was mostly cleared or melted away by Wednesday afternoon, had caught North Carolinians by surprise.
This time, meteorologists were able to provide plenty of warning for a bigger snowstorm that rolled in Wednesday night.
“With the exception of the Wilmington area, all of North Carolina will see various amounts of frozen precipitation,” McCrory said.
ABC11 meteorologist Chris Hohmann figured the Triangle could count on 4 to 6 inches – with up to a foot of snow possible closer to the Virginia state line, and the prospect of no snow farther south in Cumberland County.
Rain-snow mix possible
Some areas will get less snow and more rain and freezing rain. The forecast line separating snow from rain appears to cross through the Triangle, he said.
“This has the potential to be one of our more significant snows in recent years,” Hohmann said. “But if we switch over to rain for part of that, we’re going to get several inches of snow but not the more disruptive 8 inches of snow.”
The storm’s approach affected travel in the Triangle on Wednesday. Raleigh-Durham International Airport announced that more than 50 Thursday morning flights had already been canceled morning because airlines wanted to avoid sending planes into the storm. Amtrak said it had canceled the Palmetto, which runs between New York and Savannah, Ga., and makes stops in North Carolina.
State Department of Transportation crews sprayed brine on the highways Wednesday in advance of the storm, to reduce the amount of snow that will stick to the pavement.
“We’ll begin clearing the roads and treating them with salt and sand” after the storm arrives, Transportation Secretary Tony Tata said. “Travel conditions will be treacherous during the night.”
Airlines that would have parked jets at RDU overnight for the morning flights opted to move them to other airports not threatened by snow and ice.
Triangle drivers found a bumper crop of icy patches on local roads Wednesday morning, keeping public safety units scrambling from accident to accident while weather forecasters were waiting to get a clear picture of what was coming Wednesday night.
State troopers responded to more than 2,300 crashes across North Carolina on Tuesday, and 400 more crashes Wednesday morning.
All those crashes were keeping tow trucks and repair shops busy.
“It’s a double-edged sword for us,” said Tana Malerba, co-owner of Coats Auto Body & Paint in Garner and South Raleigh. “It generates more business. But our vendors will not put their own drivers out on the road when the weather is bad – so we cannot get parts (to complete the repairs).”
The recent string of snowy weather forced public libraries to cut back their opening hours this week, at the same time there was more demand for books and library services.
“We’re quite busy today with lots of people trying to get out of the house and get into the library and get their books,” said Dan Brooks, adult services manager for Wake County’s West Regional Library in Cary, which didn’t open Wednesday until noon.
For the second snowy week in a row, the weather forced the West Regional Library to postpone a community craft class on adding color to indoor plants with “button blooms,” made from buttons. The library also had to reschedule sessions for students who take online university classes and rely on librarians to serve as proctors for online exams, Brooks said.
Orange County Emergency Management got a jump on the expected problems with the incoming storm by tweeting Wednesday morning that county offices would be opening three hours late on Thursday.
The snow has halted lunch deliveries for Meals on Wheels of Wake County, whose 150 volunteers are pulled off the road whenever bad weather makes the roads unsafe for school buses. The organization last delivered lunch Monday to 1,350 elderly residents, most of whom are not able to leave their homes.
“This has been probably the worst-case scenario for us,” said Alan Winstead, Meals on Wheels executive director. When the forecast calls for bad weather that would make it unsafe for volunteers to drive, the group delivers nonperishable foods to provide a second-day meal.
Helping the neediest
“Normally we’re good for one or two days. But when we get into the third or fourth day, our participants who get the meals feel the impact,” Winstead said. “We have a network of staff and volunteers who are reaching out to the most vulnerable people we serve.”
Most roads were clear by lunchtime Wednesday, but that was too late.
“We have to have a six-hour window ahead of that to prep everything,” Winstead said Wednesday afternoon. “We are ready now to make lunches and deliver them Thursday, if the weather cooperates and the Wake County public schools are in session.”
Based on the forecast, that looked doubtful.