Raleigh, N.C. — Durham County schools will be closed Friday and Wake County schools will open on a two-hour delay due to the forecast for up to 4 inches of snowfall late Thursday across the Triangle.
WRAL Chief Meteorologist Greg Fishel said the winter weather system that brought 4 inches of snow to parts of Alabama Thursday afternoon and was sprinkling a wintry mix on the North Carolina mountains at 5 p.m. will make its way into Triangle around 9 p.m. Flurries could fall in areas to the north and west, including Roxboro, which will likely see the most snow, as early as 8 p.m.
The system will track off the North Carolina coast by early Friday morning.
"It's going to be a quick hit – a two- or three-hour period of some pretty good snow, and it will quickly skedaddle out of here after midnight," Fishel said.
In Durham County, traditional-calendar schools already planned to be closed Friday for a teacher workday and school system leaders decided to cancel classes at year-round schools around 5 p.m. School activities were also canceled for Thursday evening.
Public schools in Wake, Granville, Vance and Franklin counties are delaying school two hours in anticipation of slick roads Friday morning.
Magellan Charter School in Raleigh posted a one-hour delay and Louisburg College will open at 10 a.m.
Fort Bragg will have a two-hour delay Friday, and the North Carolina Zoo in Asheboro will be closed to the public.
Meanwhile, state transportation officials are in a holding pattern to see whether the snow will accumulate enough to send crews out to treat or clear roadways.
WRAL meteorologist Elizabeth Gardner said accumulation will vary based on when temperatures closer to freezing arrive in the Triangle.
"Does the cold air get here fast enough? That is really the big question," she said. "If it doesn't, we'll get a very brief period of snow and little to no accumulation. If the cold air does push in sooner, then we do have the potential for a more significant storm. It's going to go down to the wire, and really could go either way."
The state Department of Transportation sent workers home at 3:30 p.m. Thursday with orders to rest up and return at 10 p.m. Crews are outfitting their trucks with plows and spreaders and have stockpiled salt and sand.
NCDOT doesn't pre-treat roads in a situation like this, because anything they spread to prevent freezing would simply wash away in the rain. If roads get icy Friday morning, crews will spread sand to help with traction.
In Raleigh, city spokeswoman Jayne Kirkpatrick said some workers have been advised that they might be called in to help clear streets for Friday traffic. And in Cary, town officials activated what they called "A-Team" in advance of the storm, saying they planned to pounce on any potential problems.
"Although we're projected to see relatively minor effects tonight, crews will be on hand to tackle whatever comes our way, including slick spots," Cary Public Works Director Scott Hecht said.
The National Weather Service issued a winter storm warning for Wake, Durham, Chatham, Franklin, Granville, Halifax, Orange, Person, Nash, Lee, Moore, Vance, Warren and several other central North Carolina counties from 6 p.m. Thursday until 4 a.m. Friday.
A winter storm warning means severe winter conditions are expected or already occurring.
Harnett, Johnston, Wilson, Wayne and Edgecombe counties were a few of several other North Carolina counties under a winter weather advisory from 6 p.m. Thursday until 4 a.m. Friday.
The weather across eastern North Carolina on Thursday was a study in contrasts Thursday. It was 73 degrees with sunshine in Wilmington at lunchtime, while the Triangle saw chilly temperatures and a steady light rain that continued to fall since early morning.
Despite the wet conditions, no significant traffic problems were reported.
"We're going to be dealing with wet roadways all day," Gardner said. "Plan a little extra time this evening for your trip home."
As temperatures fall Thursday night, the rain is expected to transition over to sleet or snow.
"There's a lot of moisture that's coming up from the Gulf of Mexico," Gardner said. "What we need is some cold air. We don't have that yet. Two to 4 inches (of snow) are possible, but the one thing that could ruin all this is if the cold air decides to hold off."
A 90 percent chance of some precipitation will linger overnight and the forecast for Friday morning sees the temperature dip just below freezing. That means Friday morning's commute will be slick, now matter how hard it snows.
Ice could build up on bridges and other elevated areas, so drivers should be cautious Thursday night and Friday morning.
The weather warms back up to what's "normal" for the weekend, with highs in the mid to upper 50s and cold nights. By then, skies will be clear and the snow lovers will again be in wait-and-see mode.