The Triangle avoided a major snowfall this weekend but an evening of sleet followed by several hours of snow on Saturday caused more than 150 wrecks, canceled airline flights and led to postponement of the basketball game between UNC and N.C. State. But the worst could still be ahead as dropping temperatures will keep roads icy and unsafe through the weekend.
The National Weather Service issued a hazardous weather outlook for the next several days, warning that temperatures are below freezing and will probably stay that way until Tuesday. Temperatures in the Triangle this weekend are expected to top out in the mid-20s and fall into the single digits overnight.
“From this evening onward, it should be pretty clear, but it’s just going to be very cold and we won’t get above freezing until Tuesday,” said Jason Franklin, an NWS meteorologist in Raleigh. “Whatever’s on the road is going to freeze rock solid.”
Gov. Roy Cooper has declared a state of emergency for all 100 counties in North Carolina. In Saturday storm briefings, Cooper urged people to stay off the roads, cautioning them that the winter blast wasn’t over yet.
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“It’s important for people to make sure that you’re safe and warm at home tonight,” Cooper said. “Because through Monday the weather’s going to be pretty cold, and whatever’s going to be left on the road is still going to be there.”
Cooper also told the crowd that there had not been any fatalities due to the storm yet.
He praised organizers’ decision to move the basketball game between the University of North Carolina and North Carolina State University to Sunday at 1 p.m.
“I think that was a good move by the teams and by the ACC for safety reasons,” he said.
Cooper also announced that the Federal Emergency Management Agency assistance application deadline for people affected by Hurricane Matthew would be extended from Jan. 9 to Jan. 23.
Search for hikers
In Raleigh and Cary, reports ranged between 1 and 2 inches of powder and .3 inches of sleet, NWS officials said. Durham’s totals were somewhat higher, with a report of 7 inches of snow in the northern part of the county, according to an NWS release.
North and west of the Triangle, the storm packed a stronger punch, with reports of snowfall as deep as 7 to 11 inches in Greensboro, Burlington, Thomasville and Roxboro.
Even though snow wasn’t as deep as expected in Raleigh, the icy mix still coated roads and froze solid as temperatures continued to fall, causing treacherous road conditions.
Crashes Saturday caused sporadic closures on several major roads, including Interstate 40, according to the state Department of Transportation.
By 3 p.m. on Saturday, the State Highway Patrol investigated 710 automobile crashes and 1,484 service calls across the state, which was “a little more than you would have on a Saturday but about equivalent for a weekend,” Cooper said.
“I think for the most part, people have been staying off the road and for that we are grateful,” Cooper said.
At least 150 of those crashes were in the Triangle, said Trooper Chad Summerlin of the State Highway Patrol. Most of the collisions were property damage only, he said.
A fatal collision that occurred in Granville County before midnight was not weather related, Summerlin said.
Cooper also said a search and rescue operation is underway in the mountains of Haywood County for two hikers who were lost in the Shining Rock Wilderness. The mountain rescue teams are being aided by helicopters with thermal-imaging cameras to try to get the hikers out of an area that has waist-deep snow in some places before tonight’s cold sets in.
Update: Late Saturday the two hikers were rescued. A State Highway Patrol helicopter crew using thermal imaging found the pair shortly before 5 p.m. then called in an NC Emergency Management Helo Aquatic Rescue Team (NC HART) to facilitate the rescue. The condition of the two men was not immediately known.
3 million gallons of brine
Plowing and de-icing activities across the state had been going strong for most of the day, said the DOT’s acting secretary Mike Holder. Most crews planned to end their work on Saturday evening, resting up for another full day that will begin when temperatures begin to rise Sunday morning and the sun comes out.
“When temperatures drop below 20 degrees, which they will very shortly and have in many places, chemical treatments become ineffective, crews are laying sand and staging equipment in places with historical issues,” he said.
Crews in the less-snowy parts of the Triangle plowed less and laid more sand and salt, because plows need at least 1.5 inches of snow to be effective, said Steve Abbott, a DOT spokesman.
Before the storm, crews put almost 3 million gallons of brine on North Carolina roads, Abbott said. Since the storm began, 1,501 DOT vehicles and 707 contractor vehicles spread 662,800 gallons of brine, 16,347 tons of salt and 2,897 tons of a salt and sand mixture on state roads, he said.
Andrew Sawyer, a spokesman for Raleigh-Durham International Airport, said the storm caused about 55 flight cancellations, though many were the result of airlines operating out of an abundance of caution rather than the weather conditions. He said the airport remained open through the night and landed the Carolina Hurricanes’ flight from Chicago.
He said roughly 100 airport staff and another 40 contract employees are keeping the runways, roadways, sidewalks and parking lots clear. He expects the airport to stay open through the weekend, but urged travelers to check with their airlines to make sure a flight is taking off or landing. Southwest and JetBlue, for example, had canceled all flights on Saturday.
“We’re in a pretty good pattern right now,” Sawyer said. “The airlines are doing a phenomenal job of contacting passengers directly and letting them know what the flight status is, so we’ve had very few people showing up without having a flight.”
At about 7:45 a.m., primarily Delta customers – and hopeful passengers from other airlines – were the only people waiting in Raleigh-Durham International Airport’s ticketing area. The few Delta flights that were arriving departed for the warmer destinations of Miami and Orlando after moderate delays for de-icing.
Some of the customers included members of the military, a woman carrying a gown and a family with a young child, large dog and crated cat in tow.
The Delta ticketing counter also had the only passenger lines in all of Terminal 2; with all the canceled flights, there was no delay getting through security.
Covered by their coats, a family took advantage of the free recliners that serve as an advertisement for Raleigh’s Ambiente furniture store to catch a nap.
The storm has caused roughly 19,300 power outages across the state, many of those in the Charlotte area. Roughly 420 customers had power outages in the Raleigh-Durham area, Duke Energy reported, but most of them had the lights back on by the afternoon.
Meteorologists had been predicting the Triangle could see as much as 6 inches of snow as late as Friday evening, but it did not materialize because warm air hung around the central part of the state overnight and was more persistent than expected.
“The warm air surged a lot further to the west than the models predicted,” said Gail Hartfield, also a meteorologist with the NWS Raleigh office. “It looks like the Triangle area was right on a broad dividing line of a wintry mix.”
The warm air resulted in a prolonged period of mixed freezing rain, sleet and a little snow from Interstate 85 southeast, limiting the amount of snow that fell in the Triangle. Snow began falling in Raleigh after sunrise and continued into the afternoon.
Digital producer Andrew Roman contributed to this report.
Chris Cioffi: 919-829-4802, @ReporterCioffi
Tips for cold weather
▪ 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 the 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.