Rain washes snowstorm away for much of central NC

Posted December 9, 2018 7:11 p.m. EST
Updated December 10, 2018 12:19 a.m. EST

— Heavy snow that fell early Sunday was washed into storm drains across much of the Triangle and Sandhills by steady rain that fell throughout the afternoon and into the evening.

A winter storm dumped close to a foot of snow across the region, with much of the snow falling before sunrise. Seven inches of snow was recorded at Raleigh-Durham International Airport, which was the most in 18 years.

Warmer temperatures during the daylight hours converted that moisture first into a mix of sleet and freezing rain before rain took hold by noon in the Triangle and by mid-afternoon closer to the Virginia border.

Areas to the south and east, including Fayetteville, were left with only a soggy Sunday, as snow never developed.

The snow made area roads treacherous, and dozens of vehicles were abandoned along shoulders of highways and on secondary roads after skidding off. Flying wasn't much better, with more than 150 flights into and out of Raleigh-Durham International Airport canceled.

"I really do miss Guatemalan weather. It's just that I've never really been in this really, really cold weather," said Paula Villatoro, part of a group of Guatemalan exchange students who had to wait out a six-hour flight delay at RDU on their trip home. "It's just going to feel really good being able to not wear these huge jackets."

The wet, heavy snow – along with a coating of ice from the freezing rain and gusty winds – knocked down trees and power lines.

Power outages peaked at more than 250,000 customers across the state in the early afternoon, with Duke Energy reporting most of the outages in the western North Carolina mountains. The number was down to about 147,000 customers by 10 p.m., including nearly 2,400 in Wake and Durham counties, as crews worked to restore power.

Harry LeGrand said stocking up for the hurricanes a few months ago helped him get by Sunday night when his power went out near Cameron Village in Raleigh.

"The batteries and all that, I was prepared – all the candles and stuff," LeGrand said. "But I wasn't really prepared for the power going out here, so I don't have a lot in the fridge."

The temperature in his home had dropped to 61 by Sunday night – the heat was set at 68 degrees when the power went out at 4 p.m. – so he said he was staying warm by wearing sweatpants and a sweatshirt and using his warmest blankets.

The state Division of Emergency Management opened 11 shelters across the western part of the state, and 172 National Guard members and 60 special vehicles responded to storm-stricken areas. The state Department of Transportation used 290 plows to clear highways.

In the Triangle, a tree fell on an apartment building in Sanford, damaging four units and leaving at least eight people without a place to stay. One man suffered a broken leg.

A tree also fell on a house on Markham Drive in Chapel Hill, while in Holly Springs, heavy snow collapsed a roof at Doyle's Christmas Tree Stand.

Aiden Lynch and his mother were walking on Heatherbrook Circle in Raleigh when Lynch said he heard a tree crack. A large tree in their neighbor's yard crashed to the ground and on top of a car.

"It was like a once-in-a-lifetime moment to see it fall," Lynch said. "I feel glad that like we weren't walking under there."

Neighbors rushed out to help, and the tree was out of the way in less than an hour.

Downed trees left about 3,000 customers in Chapel Hill in the dark Sunday evening, and police had to direct traffic on N.C. Highway 54, where a downed tree was across the roadway near Country Club Road.

The melting snow and the falling rain combined to cause flooding on some low-lying streets, such as South Saunders Street in Raleigh, where water was about 4 inches deep.

"The roads have been pretty clear, been pretty clear, especially the main roads," delivery driver Dimitri Reese said. "I'm driving since 4 o'clock and working at the same time, and it's been pretty good. I've been in this area of Chapel Hill. I haven't been too far out in the Triangle, but right now, it's pretty good."

Authorities warned that many of those roadways would be slick Monday morning, and another system could dump more rain or snow across the region early Monday.

A winter storm warning remains in effect for most counties in and west of the Triangle until 7 p.m. Monday.

Most schools and businesses took pre-emptive action, canceling classes for the day or opening later to give road crews a chance to clear away any snow or ice for the second straight day.