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Sun and salt helping clear Triangle roads, but some will refreeze Thursday night

Roads in Raleigh are slick

A much-heralded winter storm roaring up the East Coast left a coating of powdery snow on the Triangle overnight, covering roads and dropping temperatures into the mid-20s.
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A much-heralded winter storm roaring up the East Coast left a coating of powdery snow on the Triangle overnight, covering roads and dropping temperatures into the mid-20s.

Sunny skies and temperatures near freezing are helping state and local crews clear Triangle roads on Thursday, but they warn that whatever pavement isn’t dry when the sun goes down will likely become icy overnight.

Temperatures are expected to plunge into the lower teens by Friday morning. That’s too cold for salt and brine to melt snow and ice, says Jason Dunigan, the Wake County Maintenance Engineer for the N.C. Department of Transportation. Dunigan said his crews will take a break from two days of trying keep the roads clear to concentrate on treating patches of black ice that are likely to form overnight.

“Whatever’s still on the road we’re not going to be able to get off,” Dunigan said. “So it’s just putting salt/sand out to at least give traction.”

Those who ventured out in the Triangle on Thursday morning found driving conditions varied from one road to the next. Where state and local crews put down salt and brine in advance of the storm Wednesday, the pavement was wet but mostly clear of snow. That included interstates and most primary roads.

But side streets and other secondary roads remained mostly covered in snow that got more compacted as people drove on it. The good news there is that it’s pretty much only snow; little or no icy rain fell in the Triangle overnight.

Major thoroughfares and I-40 are mostly clear of snow but many secondary and neighborhood roads are snow covered in Raleigh Thursday morning, January 4, 2018 as snow blanketed the area overnight.

Dunigan said 60 DOT trucks dropped about 1,000 tons of salt in the Wake County overnight and that he had an additional 28 grader trucks coming on at 7 a.m. to begin working on secondary roads. He said the weather would help with clearing the roads Thursday.

“At 32 degrees with some sun, we should put a healthy dent into this stuff,” Dunigan said.

With the potential of winter weather this week, here are some tips for driving on icy or snow-covered roads.

In eastern Johnston County, many main roads, including Interstate 40 near Benson and I-95, were still covered in snow in places. That’s because the wet snow that fell Wednesday night became packed down by traffic and hardened, said NCDOT spokesman Andrew Barksdale. Like Dunigan, he said the sun and warmer temperatures should give crews the upper hand.

“We think by lunchtime, things will be a lot better,” Barksdale said. “I-95 and all primary routes in Johnston County will be clear sometime later today.”

Dunigan said that in Wake County the snow was heaviest to the west. When more than an inch had fallen in Cary by 10 p.m. Wednesday, the town sent out 24 plows and 12 spreaders to begin clearing streets, starting with main thoroughfares.

“We are making good progress treating and plowing Cary streets, but with temperatures as cold as they are, we advise people to stay off thoroughfares as long as they can,” Scott Hecht, the town’s public works director, said mid-morning Thursday. “With no additional frozen precipitation in the forecast, we will continue to assess street conditions throughout the day to plan our evening response.”

In Clayton, which received about two inches of snow, all primary roads were “passable, but slick,” said town spokeswoman Stacy Beard early Thursday. The sun helped, but Beard warned that shady places wouldn’t dry out before dusk.

“Town leaders just want everyone to get home safely tonight before the sun goes down and get off the roads before the melting snow freezes over in the frigid evening temperatures,” she said.

Many Triangle buses got a late start Thursday. GoTriangle, GoDurham, GoCary and Chapel Hill Transit suspended service until 10 a.m. GoRaleigh ran on a normal schedule, with some detours.

Road conditions are worse east of I-95, where even primary roads and some stretches of interstate were covered with snow and ice Thursday morning. Drivers thinking of heading in that direction should check the NCDOT’s travel information system, at tims.ncdot.gov/tims, before leaving.

With temperatures reaching into the upper 20s on Friday and Saturday under sunny skies, road crews will make more headway with salt and plows on secondary roads. But when temperatures plunge again as low as the single digits overnight Friday and Saturday, even treated roads can become icy again, said NCDOT spokesman Steve Abbott.

“Those icy conditions mean drivers should be using extreme caution not only this morning, but throughout much of the weekend,” Abbott said. “If possible, they should stay off the roads. If they do travel, slow down considerably, and put ample space between their vehicle and those in front of it to help prevent being caught up with any sliding issues that other vehicles may have.”

Learn how the NC Dept. of Transportation prioritizes and treats highways and roads during winter weather emergencies.

Richard Stradling: 919-829-4739, @RStradling

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