More snow = more problems, more fun in Triangle

Posted January 17, 2018 7:48 p.m. EST
Updated July 13, 2018 11:17 a.m. EDT

— A slow-moving system dumped up to a foot of snow across the Triangle on Wednesday, knocking out power to thousands, making roads treacherous and creating ideal sledding conditions for youngsters who got the day off from school.

Forecasters had predicted 2 to 4 inches of snow from the winter storm for much of central North Carolina, clearing out by early afternoon. But the system began slowing down Tuesday, pushing its expected overnight arrival past sunrise, and as the storm crawled across the region throughout the day and into Wednesday night, the wet, sticky flakes piled up.

"This event has really outdone itself," WRAL Chief Meteorologist Greg Fishel said. "Mother Nature sometimes just does her own thing."

A location in western Chatham County and another in Bahama each recorded 12 inches of snow by Wednesday night, with light snow continuing to fall. Eight to 11 inches of snow was recorded elsewhere in Durham County, 9 to 11 inches fell in Orange County and 3.5 to 7 inches was reported in Wake County. And RDU set a new record for the date, beating the 4-inch total set in 1946.

Snow mavens in Fayetteville were disappointed, as rain fell through most of the day, transitioning to snow only after dusk.

The National Weather Service had issued a winter storm warning for central North Carolina on Tuesday in advance of the snow and a majority of the state will remain under a winter weather advisory until noon Thursday – prompting Gov. Roy Cooper to declare a state of emergency and road crews to ready their plows and their salt and sand spreaders. Orange County issued their own state of emergency Wednesday night, after nearly a foot of snow fell in the county.

Brine solution sprayed on area roads Monday and Tuesday kept the snow from sticking to roadways for a couple of hours early Wednesday, but as the intensity of snowfall picked up, crews were fighting a losing battle, with plows clearing highways for only a short period before snow coated the roadway again.

North Carolina Transportation Secretary Jim Trogdon said 2,100 trucks were working statewide to clear roads, and 16,000 tons of salt had been spread on roads between 7 a.m. and 5 p.m. About 2,000 tons of that total was in Wake County alone, officials said. Crews stopped plowing Wednesday evening, replaced by salt and sand trucks, but were expected to hit the road again early Thursday.

"The snow was beautiful today, but it will be treacherous tonight," Cooper said at an afternoon news conference, urging people to stay off roads, where daytime slush was expected to harden into an icy glaze overnight.

The State Highway Patrol had already answered more than 2,200 calls by 5 p.m., including 1,600 crashes, officials said. Area police departments also reported numerous vehicles in roadside ditches after sliding off slick streets. Two women were rescued by a Durham police officer after their car went off an icy road and into a creek

No fatalities were reported.

The heavy snow also toppled trees and pulled down power lines, knocking out power to as many as 30,000 homes and businesses by Wednesday afternoon. Duke Energy crews worked into the night amid the falling snow and dropping temperatures to restore power. By 9 p.m., nearly 3,000 customers in Durham County remained in the dark, as well as 2,100 in Wake County, 2,700 in Orange County, 3,400 in Chatham County and 1,700 in Lee County.

Dozens of flights to and from Raleigh-Durham International Airport were canceled, and Southwest Airlines suspended all operations until noon Thursday.

Area school districts heeded the state of emergency and canceled classes Wednesday and Thursday, giving students plenty of time to build snowmen, throw snowballs and sled down hills. Raleigh officials provided 500 sleds at Dix Park for people to enjoy, while the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill opened up Kenan Stadium for students to have a massive snowball fight.