Triangle schools, universities close ahead of impending storm

Posted January 21, 2016 6:05 a.m. EST
Updated January 22, 2016 4:34 a.m. EST

— Gov. Pat McCrory declared a state of emergency Thursday ahead of an anticipated 36-hour winter storm, and the National Weather Service issued a winter storm warning for Friday between midnight and 6 p.m.

The first portion of the storm entered North Carolina in the southwest part of the state late Thursday night and is expected to reach the Triangle Friday around around 5 a.m., according to WRAL Chief Meteorologist Greg Fishel.

“We’re seeing the first echoes show up on the southwestern portions of our radar area, and it looks like that’s going to continue to the north and east overnight," Fishel said. “The precipitation area is moving into an environment that is conducive to the formation of frozen precipitation, and I think we’ll see more of that as we move through the night.”

Sleet and snow will dominate the morning hours in the Triangle. The sleet is expected to change over to freezing rain sometime around noon. Accumulation could total 2 to 4 inches with a quarter to half inch of rain on Friday.

​"If we get lucky we might get some plain old rain Friday before the precipitation shuts off," Fishel said.

​The danger comes when ice builds up on tree branches and power lines. Anything greater than a quarter-inch of ice can cause branches to snap and cause widespread power outages.

Fishel said the longer it snows and sleets in a given location, the less chance there will be of a debilitating ice storm.

​“It’s going to be a very, very close call tomorrow morning as to whether we will get several hours of heavy snow, or whether or not we quickly go over to sleet and cut down on those accumulations,” he said. “Either way, there will be impact.”

Although the winter storm warning covers a large area, the conditions could heavily differ throughout the region, Fishel said.

“The further west, the more snow you’ll see, and the further east—including Raleigh and Fayetteville—the more of a mixed bag it’s going to be,” Fishel said. "I think there will be a substantial impact no matter where you are."

Communities to the northwest of the state capital – Roxboro, Orange County and even Chapel Hill – will see more snow. To the south, in Cumberland County, and east of Interstate 95, the weekend will be more wet than white.

In anticipation of slick roads, North Carolina State University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Fort Bragg and most area school districts – including Wake, Durham, Johnston and Cumberland counties – will be closed on Friday.​

N.C. State designated Friday as "Status 1" under the university adverse weather policy. All classes were canceled and university offices closed. Only employees designated as "essential personnel" are expected to work.

On Fort Bragg, the emergency department will remain open at Womack Army Medical Center, but all other offices will be closed. Fort Bragg Schools along with Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation facilities and programs, including Child Development Centers, and all commissaries and exchanges will be closed. Gruber West Gate will available for emergency traffic onto the post.

Fishel said precipitation should enter the Fayetteville area around 3 a.m. and Raleigh from 4 a.m. to 5 a.m..

​ Most of central North Carolina is expected to see some type of precipitation around 8 a.m.

The timing and type of wintry weather is difficult to forecast because the storm system is large and will deliver different outcomes for different parts of the state, Fishel said.

“We think there is going to be impact in all those areas, but the impact is going to vary widely, depending from one location to the next," he said.

Fishel said the incoming weather is a situation where it will doing nothing and then, within a half an hour, could be snowing heavily.

“This is not going to be one of those situations where the precipitation gradually and slowly evolves with time," he said. "We’re talking about something that will get down to business real fast.”

The NWS and governor McCrory advised drivers to stay off the roads except in emergency situations and to be prepared for power outages.

Snow will return Saturday, although amounts will be light.

“There may be some accumulating snow across the area on Saturday after we get past the main part of the system tomorrow," Fishel said.