Arctic air brings bitter chill, school delays and power outages to area
Posted January 4
Updated January 7
Raleigh, N.C. — Bitterly cold air arrived in central and eastern North Carolina early Tuesday, setting new low-temperature records across the state and delaying school for thousands of children.
Temperatures at Raleigh-Durham International Airport dropped to 9 degrees around daybreak Tuesday and climbed only into the low 20s after lunchtime. The previous record low for Jan. 7 was 15 degrees.
The cold weather prompted Wake, Durham, Cumberland, Johnston, Chapel Hill-Carrboro and numerous other schools districts to open schools two hours later on Tuesday.
Area roadways were largely dry throughout the morning, but the Durham County Sheriff's Office reported heavy black ice on Holder Road and Broach Road in eastern Durham County as well as in spots across northern Durham County.
The frigid air, which was associated with a polar vortex, made its way south and east from Canada late Monday. Temperatures in the Triangle fell as much as 50 degrees in 24 hours.
“A polar vortex is rotating, frigid air that tends to hang around the (north and south) poles during the winter, but occasionally pieces of it comes south,” WRAL meteorologist Elizabeth Gardner said. “This year, we’re getting a huge chunk of it that’s coming into the United States and affecting us here. The cold air that should be around the poles has dipped down here and we’re feeling it here. This is a huge, almost historic, cold air mass.”
Temperatures will return to the teens overnight Tuesday before moderating Wednesday afternoon.
Viewers across the area were reporting small power outages, from along N.C. 42 in Willow Springs to around the intersection of Ten-Ten Road and US 401 just south of Raleigh.
Duke Energy Progress reported power outages across central North Carolina. Over 1,600 customers were without power in Durham County during the morning hours. Durham police were directing traffic at the intersection of Sedgefield Road and Forest Road due to a blown transformer.
A transformer explosion knocked out power to about 500 customers near the intersection of Rolesville Road and Wendell Boulevard in Wendell. About 400 customers near Riverwood Middle School in Clayton and nearly 300 customers around the Valley View neighborhood in northern Chatham County were also without power Tuesday morning.
The cold weather has led to widespread power outages across western North Carolina. More than 15,400 customers were without power in Burke, Cleveland, Rutherford and Transylvania counties.
The freezing temperatures heighten concerns for hypothermia – when a person’s body temperature drops below 95 degrees – and frostbite. At temperatures of 15 to 30 below, exposed skin can become frostbitten in minutes. Experts advise residents to stay covered when outside, avoid alcohol and contact a doctor if patches of dry, red skin develop.
Area homeless shelters called Monday night a “white flag” night, meaning workers and volunteers were doubling efforts to help those without a warm place to stay. They were putting out extra cots and reaching out to homeless people to let them know they can come in from the cold.
“Every now and then, we’ll find somebody that doesn’t want to come in,” said Rodney McClain of the Durham Rescue Mission, which was at capacity. “They are comfortable where they are. A lot of time they don’t get to see the news, and they don’t know just how cold it will be.”
The Salvation Army shelter in Raleigh normally only offers beds for women with children but have also opened their doors to single women due to the cold weather. The shelter was not at capacity Tuesday morning.
The SPCA of Wake County also reminded residents to bring their pets inside. Even outdoor animals, such as horses, aren't used to acclimating to such a quick temperature drop.
“A good rule of thumb is that if it is too cold for you outside or cold enough to be uncomfortable without a winter coat, then it is too cold for your pet – even outdoor pets,” said Darci VanderSlik, marketing manager with the SPCA of Wake County.
She said pet owners are legally required to provide shelter for animals, regardless of the weather.
Car batteries are also vulnerable to cold weather. Most batteries under three years old should be able to handle the cold, but it is best to keep a vehicle in a garage to help ensure it will start. Angela Daley, a spokeswoman for AAA Carolinas, said calls were up about 20 percent on Tuesday when compared with a normal January day.
Many of the calls were related to dead batteries.
Nick Dealto, who works at Advance Auto Parts on Western Boulevard in Raleigh, also advises drivers to check coolant levels, washer fluid and be ready.
"Make sure you have jumper cables and a roadside assistance bag ready just in case you run into a scenario where the battery does die," Dealto said.
Cold weather also increases the likelihood for trouble with home water pipes. Here are some tips to help keep pipes from freezing:
- Have regular pipe maintenance done – at least once year.
- Regularly change filters around the house.
- Drip faucet so pipes don’t burst. (Drip only one faucet in the house. Choose one close to an exterior wall so pipes don’t freeze)
- Open cabinet doors where pipes are so they can feel the heat from the home.
- Turn off the outdoor sprinkler system.
- Detach the water hose from the outdoor faucet.
- Get an outdoor faucet protector. (An alternative is to wrap a rag around the faucet and secure it with tape)
If the pipes are already frozen, AAA suggests:
- If the faucet is turned on and nothing comes out, leave the faucets on and call a plumber.
- Do not use electrical appliances in areas of standing water.
- Never try to thaw a pipe with a torch or other open flame. It could cause a fire.
- Pipes may be thawed using warm air from a hair dryer. Warm the pipe as close to the faucet as possible, working toward the coldest section of pipe.
- If water pipes have already burst, turn off the water at the main shutoff valve in the house. Leave the water faucets turned on. Make sure family members know where the water shutoff valve is and how to open and close it.