Winter storm warning expands: ‘Worst-case scenario’ snow forecast materializes

Watch as snow begins falling in Chapel Hill

See scenes from Chapel Hill, NC and the University of North Carolina campus as snow begins falling and quickly sticking Wednesday night, Jan. 3, 2018.
Up Next
See scenes from Chapel Hill, NC and the University of North Carolina campus as snow begins falling and quickly sticking Wednesday night, Jan. 3, 2018.

Snow is headed to North Carolina, and some are likely to see more than had been expected, forecasters said Wednesday.

Projected snowfall amounts continued to trend upward throughout the day Wednesday as the National Weather Service offices in Raleigh and Morehead City adjusted the forecast to account for heavier snowfall further west.

As the snow begins to fall, neighbors walk their dog in Cary at about 9 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 3, 2018. John Hansen

Areas in the Triangle east of U.S. 1 were expected to see anywhere from a dusting to 3 inches of snow from what the Weather Channel named “Winter Storm Grayson.”

Raleigh was expected to see up to 3 inches of snow after forecasts were updated from less than an inch. Johnston County to the south and east could see as much as 2 inches, according to the latest weather service forecast, adjusted down from 3 inches.

Areas surrounding Sanford and Carthage to the south and west of Wake County were expected to see up to 6 inches.

In its 7:15 p.m. update on Wednesday, the weather service said its “worst-case scenario” forecast from briefings earlier in the day and on Tuesday had materialized, with reports of more than 3 inches of snow from areas southwest of Raleigh.

As of about 9 p.m. Wednesday, some areas east of Raleigh such as Smithfield, Clayton, Rocky Mount and Clinton were receiving about an inch of snow per hour, leading to quickly deteriorating road conditions, including I-95 and I-40.

The part of the state from Interstate 95 east to the coast was under a winter storm warning and forecasters agree that area has several inches of snow in store – 3 inches or more in 12 hours. Five inches or more are possible in the far northeast areas east of I-95.

Shoppers flock to Triangle grocery stores, like this Carlie C's on New Bern Ave. in Raleigh, to stock up as forecasters predict a winter storm on Jan. 3, 2018.

Greenville, Kinston and New Bern could see as much as 4 to 6 inches, while areas north and east including Washington and Williamston could see 6 to 8 inches, the weather service said.


Gov. Roy Cooper warned of dangerous travel conditions and potential power outages in a Wednesday news release. Cooper declared a state of emergency to assist with storm response and recovery, along with an executive order waiving truck weight, size and hours of service restrictions to ease movement of supplies and equipment across the state.

“This storm is expected to bring snow, ice, and strong winds to parts of our state,” Cooper said. “A winter storm combined with bitterly cold temperatures is a dangerous combination that will make travel difficult and could lead to power outages.

“Unnecessary travel not only puts you at risk, but it also risks the lives of emergency services and law enforcement officers who respond to help you.”

The N.C. Department of Transportation said it applied extra brine to Wake County roads Tuesday evening in response to the changing forecast, and that it will continue to apply brine to Wake roads Wednesday morning.

The DOT said after the snow it will work to clear interstates and other highways first, and then move on to secondary and residential roads.

As of Wednesday evening, DOT crews had applied more than 2 million gallons of bring across roads in 56 counties and have crews and equipment prepped to clear ice and snow.

State troopers were busy marking abandoned vehicles along roadways and coordinating with local law enforcement to make sure no one is left stranded in dangerously low temperatures. State troopers and transportation crews also were working to clear disabled vehicles so they don’t impede traffic.

National Guard troops were on standby and prepared to aid in weather response.

Blizzard warning

A blizzard warning was issued by the weather service for northeast North Carolina and southeast Virginia, including Norfolk, Virginia Beach and Elizabeth City, with some of the surrounding areas expected to see as much as 12 inches of snow.

High winds also were expected in Carteret, Dare, Hyde and Tyrrell counties. Along with snow, central coastal counties could see as much as a quarter inch of ice accumulate with strong winds.

The bulk of the snow was expected Wednesday evening into early Thursday morning, likely ending before sunrise Thursday in the northeastern areas.

Deep arctic air is moving in over the mid-Atlantic region as an intensifying low pressure center moves northeast just off the Carolina coast, bringing snow and possible sleet or freezing rain to eastern North Carolina Wednesday and Thursday. Frigid air will surge into the area Thursday through Saturday, the weather service said.

Some computer models show flakes reaching far enough west for the Triangle to see a dusting...or maybe more depending on where you live.

Wake and Durham counties were included in a winter weather advisory from the weather service. “Plan on slippery road conditions. Total snow accumulations of 1 to 2 inches are expected,” the advisory said.

Johnston County and points east are under a winter storm warning, with a forecast of 2 to 4 inches of snow and “difficult travel conditions.” That is in effect through 7 a.m. Thursday.

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

One computer model predicted snow flurries starting in western parts of the Triangle, but that “is kind of an outlier model,” Stewart said.

[Staying warm during the freeze may mean lowering the temperature in your home]

Temperatures Wednesday were not predicted to climb much above freezing, so what snow does appear in the central Triangle could stick to roads, Stewart said.

The day started with a temperature reading of 9 degrees at Raleigh-Durham International Airport, tying a record low set in 1887. The air arctic air mass “has record cold associated with it,” the weather service said, adding that more records could likely be broken before the storm system leaves the coast. Friday will likely be the coldest day of the stretch, but Saturday won’t be much better.

Blizzard warnings near the coast, heavy snow, ice and below freezing temperatures will make travel extremely dangerous. Cooper urges motorists to stay off of roads unless driving is necessary.

Temperatures in the 20s overnight Wednesday will help the effectiveness of brine and salt on roadways, officials said.

“The forecasted temperature above freezing on Thursday will also help,” said DOT spokesman Steve Abbott. “However, be aware that with the temperature supposed to be in the mid-teens overnight Thursday, any wet roadways will ice up, and neither brine or salt will melt ice when it gets that cold. That leaves sand as our way to help improve traction in the icy areas.”

Another system is expected to move in from the west on Monday, bringing with it the possibility of light freezing rain or sleet from the western part of the state spreading east Monday morning. Early models show the freezing precipitation could change to cold rain by Monday afternoon, lingering into Tuesday along with continued below normal temperatures.


The Red Cross and local governments worked to open shelters in eastern North Carolina ahead of the snow and amid freezing temperatures.

A shelter was open in Whiteville and one was planned to open in Barco.

▪ Columbus County shelter: Edgewood Elementary School, 317 E Calhoun St., Whiteville, NC 28472.

▪ Currituck County: Currituck Cooperative Ext. Services, 120 Community Way, Barco, NC 27917.

Gwen Roberts, founder and director of Horses for Hope in Raleigh, takes care of her herd of therapy horses diligently throughout the winter months. Horses need extra roughage and accessible water in order to stay warm enough.

Drone and slow motion video reveals the beauty inside this beastly cold weather.

Related stories from Raleigh News & Observer