Airlines cancel flights, crews prep roads ahead of winter storm

Posted January 21, 2016 11:01 a.m. EST
Updated January 21, 2016 10:41 p.m. EST

With the potential for snow, freezing rain and sleet in the 48-hour forecast, both state government and private utilities followed their winter storm protocols and urged residents to ready for the same.

Gov. Pat McCrory declared a state of emergency, allowing him to activate additional personnel to plan for and react to the coming storm.

The North Carolina Department of Transportation rolled out trucks across the state Wednesday to brine major highways, bridges and ramps. The mixture of 23 percent salt to water is used to coat the road surface and keeps icy precipitation from sticking.

Steve Abbott, a spokesman for DOT, pointed out that brine is effective in inhibiting icy roads down to about 20 degrees.

"Even though we put the stuff down, there's still going to be patches of ice," Abbott said. "It doesn't take a very large patch of ice to have a car or truck go off the road."

In Wake County alone, crews had already sprayed 150,000 gallons of brine on major roadways by Thursday afternoon.

"The way the storm is looking, it could be affecting roads from early Friday morning all the way well into Saturday, and our crews don't leave until the roads are clear," Abbott said.

The DOT has called in drivers, supplies and equipment to respond once the storm moves in. As ice and snow build up on road surfaces, DOT crews spread melting salt and roll out plows.

"Most crews will be spending the afternoon resting up so they can be ready to go out overnight," said Nick Tennyson, secretary of the DOT.

Danny Safon, who works for Peak towing, said he knows too well what happens when icy roads and vehicles mix. Safon pulled several cars out of a ditch along Aviation Parkway last year during a winter storm.

"The schools are already closed, so that's good," Safon said. "But I have a feeling we're going to be out on the ice all morning once it starts, until it ends."

The governor asked drivers to stay home once the storm begins, and said the DOT would be aggressive in moving disabled cars out of the travel lanes and to the shoulders. The state Highway Patrol will check and tag those cars left abandoned to winter weather, McCrory said.

"We don't want to leave anyone abandoned on our roads," he said. "The last thing we want is a family in a car, and everyone assumes no one’s there."

The state also mobilized an estimated 90 members of the National Guard in trucks and Humvees, ready to rescue stranded drivers and transport medical and utility personnel.

Multiple airlines, including Jet Blue, Southwest, Delta, United and American Airlines, canceled flights into and out of Raleigh-Durham International Airport beginning late Thursday night and lasting through Sunday morning, the airport said. More than 200 flights were canceled by Thursday evening.

Travelers are advised to check with their carrier for exact flight information.

"Even when airlines are announcing wholesale cancelations, as we are seeing some of them do, our goal is to keep one runway open throughout the even, so that if flights are scheduled to go in or out they will be able to land and depart safely," said RDU spokesperson Mindy Hamlin.

Many passengers have been forced to make alternate travel plans due to the weather, including Uma Ramanathan, who was planning on flying to India for a wedding.

"The earliest they could get me was Sunday, so I will be a couple of days late," Ramanathan said.

In Durham, shoppers were stocking up on food. Lines at a Kroger on Hillsborough Road were long Thursday afternoon, and employees said they only expect them to get longer.

Gertie Lonero said she made two trips.

"I came yesterday and spent almost $200. I got lots of canned stuff and frozen stuff," she said.

McCrory also acknowledged two big sporting events scheduled this weekend – Duke University plays basketball at North Carolina State Saturday at 2 p.m. and the Carolina Panthers host the NFC Championship game Sunday at 6:40 p.m. He said emergency personnel would evaluate conditions closer to game time and offer recommendations for fans and teams.

Duke Energy has recruited an additional 1,300 line workers to support the 3,000-plus stationed in the Carolinas in case ice buildup brings down power lines. The forecast calls for an estimated quarter-inch of ice to fall in the Triangle. That amount is the baseline for lines to snap.

Utilities were checking in Thursday on customers who depend on their electricity for medical support and advising them to plan for an alternative.

Duke also offered these tips to prepare for a power outage:

  • Stock up on bottled water, flashlights, batteries, non-perishable foods, first aid items and prescription medications.
  • Make sure cell phones are fully charged.
  • Gather and store extra firewood in a dry, sheltered area.
  • Get extra blankets and sleeping bags out of storage.
  • Fill car gas tanks. If the power goes out, pumps will not work.
  • Withdraw cash. If the power goes out, ATMs will be offline.
  • Have a portable, battery-operated radio or TV available to track weather updates.