Unexpected Snowfall Surprises Drivers, Forecasters
Posted January 9, 2004
RALEIGH, N.C. — Snow that had been falling since early morning began to taper off in the Triangle area shortly after noon Friday, but not before causing early school closures and hundreds of traffic accidents.
As of 1 p.m. Friday, 3 inches of snow had fallen at Raleigh-Durham International Airport, 3 inches in Oxford amd Apex, 2 inches in Rocky Mount and Roanoke Rapids, 1-2 inches in Fayetteville and 2-3 inches in Southern Pines.
The amount of snowfall was a surprise to motorists and forecasters, who had expected no more than an inch of snow and reasonable driving conditions.
"If we were having rain, and we had forecast a tenth of an inch instead of three-tenths, nobody would have known the difference," said Phil Badgett, a weather service meteorologist. "But when you're talking about white stuff, then it makes a huge difference."
The Highway Patrol reported 527 accidents in 14 counties around Raleigh by 2 p.m., compared to the 109 reported in the region all day Thursday, said Patty McQuillan, a patrol spokeswoman.
Primary roads and interstates were wet but not icy during the day. Still, more than 70 of the state's 100 counties reported that the majority of their roads were covered with snow or ice, the Department of Transportation said, making travel treacherous.
"It was just a sheet of ice you couldn't see," Person County driver Vanessa Poole said after her white Jeep Cherokee ended up in a ditch.
No serious traffic injuries were reported, although three students were treated at a hospital after their school bus overturned in the snow on the way to South Stanly middle and high schools Friday morning.
At least 35 public school systems statewide closed Friday. But others decided to start late or on a regular schedule.
The steady snowfall dwindled to intermittent flurries early Friday afternoon in the WRAL viewing area. According to the WRAL Weather Center, the flurries were expected to end late Friday afternoon, with highs in the low-mid 30s.
The forecast for Friday night calls for mostly-cloudy, windy and cold conditions, with lows in the mid 20s. Highs Saturday are expected to be in the upper 20s-low 30s, with Saturday night's low predicted to be 11 degrees.
Road conditions could remain slick Friday night and Saturday morning. Black ice could form on bridges and overpasses overnight.
Due to the inclement weather, North Carolina Central University canceled its evening classes for Friday, and all classes Saturday.
"Due to the black ice conditions predicted in our area by national weather services, the university does not want our student body to risk traveling under dangerous road conditions from neighboring counties in an effort to attend class," Provost Lucy J. Reuben said. "We will find an appropriate time to make up the missed hours."
Friday morning's weather prompted some school systems in the WRAL viewing area to
Stanly County officials decided at 5:15 a.m. to open schools on time Friday. But road conditions deteriorated by the time most buses were on the road, schools superintendent Ken Edwards said.
"We thought we made the right decisions this morning, but the weather threw us a curve," Edwards said.
Stanly and several other Piedmont systems decided to close early to avoid more icy conditions late in the day.
Triangle-area school systems faced the same dilemma. The weather actually was not bad enough to cancel classes when school started but started coming down harder than expected just a short time later.
In Fayetteville, Ft. Bragg closed Friday morning, as did Seymour Johnson Air Force Base in Goldsboro. All mission-essential personnel will remain on duty at both bases.
Throughout the WRAL viewing area Friday evening, motorists still were being urged to exercise caution on roads, where more than 800 wrecks were reported throughout the day.
One accident involved a Nash County sheriff's deputy,
and there was a report of a
tanker truck overturned in Holly Springs.
Two school buses also were in accidents in Chatham County,
though no students were reported injured.
In another accident, in Wake County,
a passerby rescued a woman who had driven into a creek.
In Cary, 48 accidents were reported in a two-hour span. Raleigh reported 98 wrecks.
Durham police reported 48 wrecks between 6 a.m. and 2 p.m. Friday. Only five involved injuries.
At Raleigh-Durham International Airport, spokeswoman Mindy Hamlin reported minor delays. Airlines were de-icing planes, and runways were being treated to make sure precipitation did not freeze on the ground.
Hamlin said people traveling over the weekend should contact their airline about delays or cancellations.
Wake County announced that government offices would remain open on a regular schedule Friday. But parks were closed due to the weather and its effects.
Emergency management staff will continue to monitor conditions and prepare for any necessary emergency response but do not plan to open the Wake County Emergency Operations Center.
Progress Energy took the opportunity Friday to launch an
expanded storm information Web site
for its customers. The site lets the customers know what they can do if a power outage occurs as a result of the storm.