With new sleds and bags of rock salt and ample provisions of bread, milk and other groceries, the Triangle hunkered down for its first winter storm of the season this weekend.
Cold rain and sleet began falling Friday afternoon, and was expected to turn to snow overnight. The National Weather Service said 4 to 8 inches were possible in the Triangle, where a winter storm warning remains in effect until 7 p.m. Saturday.
The snow will have stopped by then, pushed out by a blast of Arctic air that will keep temperatures below freezing until Tuesday and make clearing the roads of ice and snow difficult. Temperatures will dip into the low teens Sunday morning, but the coldest time will be Monday morning, when thermometers will read single digits.
Forecasters had been predicting the storm all week, so few were caught off guard. Several school districts and local governments closed early Friday so people could get home before anything started falling.
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Gov. Roy Cooper declared a state of emergency for the entire state. The storm forced the postponement of most of Cooper’s inauguration festivities, and the inaugural ball scheduled for Saturday was held a night early. Cooper urged people to stay off highways during and after the snowstorm.
“It’s good that we aren’t looking at a commuting day Saturday,” Cooper said.
Some forecast models call for up to a foot of snow in the Triangle, said Shawna Cokley, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service office in Raleigh.
Cokley said snowfall totals will be lower south and east of the Triangle, because temperatures will be slightly warmer, producing sleet or rain instead of snow.
“There’s that gradient of snow as you move from south to north, and as you move inland,” she said.
Cold days and nights
Public schools in the Triangle generally remain closed until secondary roads are clear of ice and snow, and that’s not likely until the middle of next week. Forecasters say temperatures won’t get back above freezing until Tuesday, and highs are expected to reach the 50s on Wednesday.
Because of the icy temperatures, Cokley warned that Monday’s commute could be dicey and drivers should exercise extreme caution.
“We do have a danger of black ice forming, especially Saturday,” Cokley said. “Everything that melts or compacts a little bit will refreeze with those low temperatures.”
The DOT’s snow and ice clearing equipment will be busy all weekend, as 3,200 employees use the department’s fleet of about 1,900 vehicles to clear roads, said the DOT’s acting secretary Mike Holder.
DOT equipment operators had most of Friday off as they rested up for what was sure to be a busy weekend and plows would begin rolling when snow reached depths of between 1.5 and 2 inches, Holder said.
The department also will have between 500 and 600 contractors across the state, and will be able to put them to work quickly because of Cooper’s state of emergency declaration, Holder said.
DOT and the State Highway Patrol reminded motorists to not leave their vehicles abandoned on the shoulders, where they get in the way of snow plows and salt trucks. Under the state of emergency, the Highway Patrol and local law enforcement agencies will arrange for towing companies to move vehicles left on the shoulder to a safe place.
Chris Cioffi: 919-829-4802, @ReporterCioffi
Tips for ice and snow
If the power goes out, contact Duke Energy Progress at 800-769-3766 or Wake Electric Membership Corp. at 800-474-6300 or 919-863-6300.
Be careful when using supplemental heating units. Make sure all combustible materials, such as drapes or chairs, are at least 3 feet away from any heating unit.
Avoid using propane heaters inside or flammable liquids to start fireplaces, and do not leave a fireplace unattended. Check smoke detectors to make sure they are working properly.
Never use a charcoal or gas grill indoors.
Let water taps drip so they don’t freeze. Learn how to use your home’s master water shut-off valve in the event of broken pipes.
Bring pets indoors at night when temperatures dip to their lowest.
Check on relatives and neighbors to make sure they’re warm enough.
On the road
Keep more than usual distance between cars, and do not use cruise control. Remember that bridges and overpasses freeze first.
Do not apply your brakes while on a bridge unless necessary.
Anticipate black ice. Watch for thin sheets of ice that may appear to be wet pavement. Often ice will appear in the morning, in shady spots or anywhere that melted snow refreezes at night.
If your vehicle begins to slide, take your foot off the gas and turn the steering wheel in the direction of the slide. Do not apply the brakes, as that will cause further loss of control.
Come to a complete stop or yield the right of way when approaching an intersection in case any drivers coming from other directions lose control while trying to stop.
You can contact the Highway Patrol statewide on your cellphone by calling *HP (*47) or call local law enforcement by dialing 911. But don’t call 911 to check on road conditions.
Do not attempt to deal with downed limbs or trees. They may be tangled in live power lines.