Local News

Icy Weather Causes Fatal Wreck, Power Outages

Posted February 27, 2003

— Felicia Howell of Durham didn't expect to be eating lunch by candelight on Thursday. But that's what happened after freezing rain caused a power outage in the Brightleaf Square area of town.

"This is the worst winter I've ever experienced," Howell said.

Schools closed.

Drivers skidded off roads, and collapsing power lines left thousands in the dark as icy sleet fell across North Carolina from the mountains to east of Raleigh.

At 9:30 p.m. Thursday, a Winter Storm Warning was in effect for Caswell County, N.C., until 1:43 a.m. Friday.

Flooding in Durham late Thursday afternoon caused authorities to close Club Boulevard between I-85 and Washington Street.

By 10 p.m. Thursday, the persistent storm had produced 29,800 outages for customers of electric cooperatives located primarily in western and north central North Carolina.

Most of the outages were the result of falling tree branches or ice accumulation on power lines. The hardest hit areas were in Stokes, Rockingham, Caswell, Person, Durham, Orange, Surry, Yadkin, Randolph and Alamance counties.

The remaining outages were scattered throughout the state.

Duke Power and Progress Energy had sporadic reports of outages across their respective systems during the day. Duke Power said its number of outages grew dramatically toward late afternoon.

As of 5:45 p.m., about 200,000 Duke Power customers were without power in the Triangle and Triad areas of the state. There were 7,500 outages in Durham, and more than 1,000 outages in Orange County.

Duke Power has recruited 1,000 additional line crewmen from other utilities to help out, adding that it may be several days before all outages are fixed.

Progress Energy reported 28,400 outages systemwide as of 5:45, most of those in Henderson, Oxford and Roxboro.

There still were 12,000 outages in Roxboro after 6 p.m. A spokeswoman warned that more customers could be plunged into the dark and cold depending on the temperature.

Person County schools will be closed Friday. Vance County schools will be on a two-hour delay.

Mecklenburg, Va., schools will be closed Friday.

The ice storm hit North Carolina communities closest to the Virginia border the hardest, causing the traffic death of one motorist overnight.

Derek Gerard Roberts, 19, of Madison hit a patch of ice and lost control of his vehicle, causing it to overturn, at about 1 a.m. just south of Stoneville, the State Highway Patrol said.

Hundreds of other wrecks involved property damage and minor or no injuries, dispatchers said. The biggest appeared to be in Alamance County, where troopers said eight vehicles crashed Thursday morning on an icy bridge on N.C. 54 over the Haw River.

The volume of wrecks was about 75 percent more than normal in a nine-county area around Greensboro, Highway Patrol Sgt. Phil Wadsworth said.

"It's just people overlooking the ice with no fear, I guess," Wadsworth said. "You run up on black ice, and before you know it, you lose control of your car.

"They didn't think it was that bad. They ran into wet road and thought it was O.K. They're just not thinking."

A cold air mass from the northwest bumped into warm, moist air from the south along a line in central North Carolina. Afternoon temperatures ranged from 32 degrees in Greensboro to 34 degrees in Raleigh and 50 degrees at Swansboro along the state's southern coast.

To the west, the storm left ice that weighed down power lines or caused tree limbs to crack, falling onto power lines below.

Beth Berman of Durham lost power for the second time this winter

"I'd rather have snow than this stuff," Berman said. "Snow is so beautiful.

"This makes it difficult to drive. I don't like that."

The National Weather Service warned that ice accumulations may total one inch to 1 1/2 inches thick by Friday morning along the Virginia border, including Caswell, Rockingham, Stokes and Surry counties. Ice cover that thick would readily cause trees and power lines to snap, causing widespread power outages.

Lesser ice accumulations were forecast for areas to the south, including Statesville and Salisbury.

Temperatures in North Carolina's northern mountains were expected to remain close to freezing, with only areas of light icing but snow and sleet of one inch to three inches expected.

There appeared to be significant icing north of Raleigh heading into Thursday night.

WRAL meteorologist Greg Fishel said the intensity of precipitation should let up in Triangle by Thursday night, adding that there could be "substantial improvement" in the conditions Friday and Saturday.

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