Winter storm weakens, but threat of freezing roads strengthens
Posted March 2
Updated March 3
Raleigh, N.C. — A winter storm that moved into North Carolina early Monday was weakening by the afternoon, diminishing worries about major sleet or snow accumulation along roadways in the Triangle and points north.
But the threat isn't over yet.
WRAL Chief Meteorologist Greg Fishel said a final center of rotation to the storm was sweeping through the state Monday evening, bringing spotty, light frozen precipitation before skies clear.
Some areas were seeing bursts of heavy snow that lasted about 4 to 5 minutes before stopping. Areas affected included those northwest of Durham and Chapel Hill and parts of Warren County.
Areas farther to the south were seeing mainly sleet.
As the system moves out of central North Carolina, any remaining precipitation will freeze overnight as temperatures drop into the teens.
“We’re looking at a situation this afternoon where it may not be as bad over as big of an area as we feared,” he said. "Just because we've been lucky so far, don't let your guard down, because things could still be slick out there tonight."
The National Weather Service canceled winter storm warnings for several counties – including Nash, Halifax, Person and Vance – north of the Triangle, but winter weather advisories were in effect until midnight for those areas, as well as numerous other central counties, including Wake, Cumberland, Durham, Johnston, Orange and Wayne.
The advisory means a half-inch of snow and sleet, along with a glaze to a tenth of an inch of ice accumulation, is still possible.
Monday's storm heralded the return of harsher winter weather following a spring-like weekend that saw temperatures in the 70s across much of central and eastern North Carolina.
Rain began moving south into the state in the early morning, reaching Durham by 8 a.m. Light snow and sleet were reported in areas bordering Virginia, but the warm ground temperatures left over from the weekend helped prevent accumulations in the central part of the state.
Several school systems in the area dismissed early Monday, and by Monday evening, several, including those in Cumberland, Franklin, Harnett, Hoke and Johnston counties, had announced two-hour delays for Tuesday. Orange County and Vance County schools had canceled classes Tuesday.
State Department of Transportation officials said crews did not brine roads in Wake County on Monday because the rain would have washed it away. The DOT has already exhausted its $30 million in winter weather funds, but officials said there are reserve funds that can be tapped if needed.
There are 50 trucks available in Wake County through the evening, and 24 trucks will be out overnight, NCDOT spokesman Steve Abbott said.
Raleigh police urged drivers not to "block the box" if the evening commute gets tricky. In other words, drivers should not clog intersections by moving through them when there's not enough room to get to the other side. The maneuver violates both city and state laws.
"Blocking the box causes problems under any conditions, but its headaches can be magnified by adverse weather," Raleigh police spokesman Jim Sughrue said in a statement. "Some of the congestion issues experienced during the Feb. 12 snowfall were related to blocked intersections."
Sughrue was referring to major traffic backups that happened during last month's snowstorm, when hundreds of drivers abandoned their cars along Triangle roadways.
Police said blocked intersections make it more difficult for emergency vehicles to reach people who need help.
"Our goal is to improve traffic flow and lessen the stress caused by congested intersections," said Lt. Tim Tomczak of the department’s Special Operations Division, which includes the Traffic Enforcement Unit. “We want to do all we can to make drivers more aware of the potential problems and the laws.”
More than 100 flights from the Northeast have been canceled at Raleigh-Durham International Airport. Departing flights are faring better, but travelers are encouraged to check before heading to the airport.
Wind chills will make for a frigid Tuesday morning, when temperatures will feel like 4 degrees at 5 a.m. The afternoon high will reach 38 degrees.
The next chance of precipitation will be Thursday, but temperatures are expected to be above freezing, so anything that falls would likely be rain.