Local News

Icy Conditions Prevail Overnight

Posted December 5, 2002

— More than 400 school and business closings had been reported for Thursday late Wednesday, and a brigade of workers from the Department of Transportation scoured roads in the wee hours of Thursday morning after a band of sleet, snow and rain turned the Triangle to ice.

After the clock struck midnight Wednesday, many Triangle residents were spooked by the sight of mysterious bluish-green lights exploding with strange sounds and lightning-like flashes. Some of the lights emanated brightly through the windows of homes; others blinked on and off in the distance, spitting fire into the sky.

Those lights were a telltale sign that the storm dumping freezing rain on the area was a damaging one.

The lights shone from the transformers on downed power lines - not what people wanted to see. Dozens upon dozens of downed power lines.

More than 24,000 people were without power as Wednesday night turned into Thursday morning. Up to an inch of ice had accumulated on trees and power lines in some places, and the lines and limbs just snapped under the weight.

Forecasters said that a 1/4-inch to one-inch ice buildup appeared likely throughout the area by morning.

Wake County Schools, Durham County Schools, Orange County Schools and Chapel Hill/Carrboro Schools took no chances that their students and teachers could get in. They all had reported by 9 p.m. that they wouldn't hold classes Thursday - among 408 organizations that had reported closings or delays to WRAL throughout the night.

Those decisions looked wise early Thursday. Precipitation was widespread, and most of the Triangle region had temperatures of below freezing. There were reports of trees falling on houses, trees falling on gas lines, power lines falling on moving trucks. The airport was closed, and hotels were filling up.

Temperatures were expected to go down a few more degrees before warming back up, and the precipitation wasn't expected to back off until mid-day Thursday.

The Triangle's first winter storm of 2002 had struck.

Progress Energy reported 23,000 outages in its northern region, which includes Raleigh. There were 1,769 outages in Durham, 6,158 in Cary, 2,192 in North Raleigh, 9,122 in West Raleigh and 3,329 in Pittsboro.

According to the forecast, the most serious icing would occur on Northeast-facing hillsides, where some of the possible one-inch buildups will occur.

Raleigh had stockpiled more than 1,700 tons of salt to put down on the roads in case of icy conditions. More than 40 trucks equipped with salt spreaders and plows hit the streets Wednesday night to try and clear the roads by the morning commute.

The storm had many residents thinking back to January of 2000, when one of the worst snowstorms to hit this area left 73,000 people without power and made many major roads unpassable for days to follow.

Forecasters don't expect this storm to be as damaging as the 2000 storm was, though this first storm of the 2002 winter still made an impact.

The Forecast:

A gradual transition from frozen to freezing occurred across North Carolina. A west-to-east band of heavy snow moved northward through the northern Piedmont from late afternoon into the evening.

Surface visibilities were around 1/4-1/2 ince with this snow band, and snowfall rates were one to 1.5 inches per hour. By 8:30p.m., the band had shifted to very near the North Carolina/Virginia border.

By 9 p.m., the radar showed sleet along the North Carolina/Virginia border counties from extreme North Forsyth, extreme Northern Guilford, Person, Granville, Vance and Warren counties. Freezing rain was falling to the south of that band through all of central North Carolina.

Lows are expected to dip into the 20s Wednesday night in several areas before rising into the mid 40s and lower 50s by the end of the week.

Forecasters said mountain regions, including areas around Asheville and Boone, had received between 3-5 inches of snow by early evening Wednesday. On Mt. Mitchell, the highest point of the Appalachian chain, 7 inches of snow was reported.

Closings/Delays:

After closing early Wednesday, some school systems have made decisions regarding their status on Thursday.

Chatham County, Orange County, Wake County and Durham Public Schools will be closed Thursday. Cumberland County School will open on a two-hour delay.

Other school systems are expected to make a decision about the status of schools on Thursday by 11 p.m.

Businesses and houses of worship across the Triangle have also reported

closings and cancellations

for Wednesday evening.

Power:

Duke Power reported 1,700 outages in Burlington, 250 in Hendersonville.

Progress Energy had reported 150 outages in the Triangle, 150 near Southern Pines and 450 in the western part of the state near Asheville.

Residents in Southern Pines were out of power for about 30 to 45 minutes because a tree fell on a line, but power had been restored by 8 p.m.

Duke Power reported 47,000 customers without power - 22,000 in South Carolina. 100,200 in Charlotte and 100 in Winston Salem. All outages were caused by falling limbs or ice on the lines.

N.C Electric Cooperative had no significant outages to report.

Electric cooperative crews throughout the state are at the ready for any outages that may result from falling tree branches or ice accumulation on power lines.

CP&L has more than 100 crews on standby, including crews from the eastern part of the state.

"Our line and service crews have dealt with numerous winter storms over the years and are well-prepared to repair any ice-related damage and quickly restore power," said Jackie Joyner, CP&L's system storm coordinator.

Traffic, Transportation:

Weather-related wrecks were being reported on primary and secondary roads throughout the area as Triangle residents attempted to get gome Wednesday evening.

At one point the state Highway Patrol said it had 108 accidents pending across the state.

The Highway Patrol is reminding motorists that they should not drive in such weather unless it is an absolute emergency.

The City of Raleigh's emergency weather plan is in full gear. More than 40 trucks are equipped with plows and salt spreaders to clear streets. The city said it stockpiled more than 1,700 tons of salt.

Durham police are asking motorists who are involved in minor accidents during the winter storm to either pull off to a safe place on the side of the road or go home to report the accident. Please do not block the roadway, particularly on the interstate highways and main roads.

Delta Airlines has cancelled all flights to and from RDU International through 10 a.m. Thursday and other airlines are expected to follow. Icy conditions and the ripple effect could delay or even cancel more flights ober the next 24 hours.

RDU spokesperson Mindy Hamlin said the airport remains open with flights coming and going. She advises passengers with travel plans to contact their airline reservation number for flight information before leaving for the airport. Airline reservation numbers can be found on the airport's

web site

.

In Asheville, numerous accidents snarled traffic along Interstate 40 in McDowell County. Banks, schools and some businesses closed after noon in Haywood County as the storm dropped more than three inches of snow.

The frigid weather would have been a pleasure for two new residents of the North Carolina Zoo near Asheboro, in the state's center. But the two polar bears recently rescued from a Mexican circus are still under quarantine.

The bears are confined in a special air-conditioned pen where the temperatures are kept at 60 degrees, said zoo spokesman Rod Hackney. He said they have two small pools to frolic in, but no windows to peek outside. The zoo closed at 2 p.m.

The Blue Ridge Parkway was shut down, according to spokeswoman Pansy Clark.

"There is a foot of snow on the Boone stretch, and six to eight inches on the Asheville stretch," she said.

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