Snow's lingering effects cause wrecks, strand RDU travelers
Posted December 27, 2010 4:14 a.m. EST
Updated December 27, 2010 10:56 p.m. EST
Raleigh, N.C. — The snow that coated the Triangle in a blanket of white Sunday created a threat for drivers taking to the road Monday and left travelers waiting for airline flights.
While most major routes across the region were passable and plowed, many secondary roads had patches of black ice.
"There were a lot of spots in the shade that did not get a whole lot of sun on them today that our equipment was not able to peel all the ice up," said Steve Halsey, DOT maintenance engineer for Wake County.
State and municipal crews plowed and spread ice melt and sand through the night Sunday and planned to do so again on Monday night, when temperatures were forecast to fall into the teens.
Officials said anything that melted during the day would likely refreeze overnight, creating more treacherous conditions into Tuesday morning.
The state Department of Transportation said most roads statewide should be cleared by Tuesday afternoon, but the plowing effort would continue into Wednesday in some areas and late in the week in mountain counties.
The DOT called in all of its road crews over the holiday to plow snow and hired private contractors to help speed the snow-removal effort, officials said.
Highway Patrol troopers responded to 2,385 calls for service statewide on Sunday, officials said. Four weather-related traffic fatalities were reported Sunday – one each in Mecklenburg, Onslow, Lee and Johnston counties.
“We know many people are traveling for the holidays and we want everyone to be extremely cautious,” said Doug Hoell, state emergency management director. “Anyone who is thinking of driving during the next few days should pay careful attention to the weather and traffic forecasts before heading out.”
Slick conditions cause wrecks
A Knightdale police officer was injured Monday morning while responding to two wrecks on the Knightdale Boulevard bridge over Interstate 540, police said.
A vehicle hit a patch of ice on the bridge and slid into the unidentified officer's patrol car, which was then pushed into one of four disabled vehicles on the bridge, police said. The officer was treated for minor injuries at Rex Healthcare in Knightdale, and the road was closed until crews could sand the area, police said.
The Durham County Sheriff's Office reported six wrecks in a 30-minute period Monday morning on Sherron Road. Capt. Ricky Buchanan said the road was especially slick in shaded areas.
Cary reported 14 storm-related crashes since Christmas, and officials urged drivers to stay home if possible to give crews time to completely clear local roads.
“While roads look clear, no driver can see black ice. So, it’s best to stay indoors,” warned Steve Brown, director of public works for the Town of Cary.
Area hospitals reported an increased number of injuries from sledding and shoveling accidents and slips on ice, as well as vehicle crashes.
Counties along Interstate 95 bore the brunt of Sunday's storm, with many places getting close to a foot of snow. High winds continued to blow snow across U.S. Highway 264 on Monday between Raleigh and Wilson.
Deep drifts of snow were piled along the sides and in the median of Raleigh Boulevard, one of the main thoroughfares in Wilson, and residents said it could take them a week to dig out.
"We just thought we'd wait for some warmer days to let it clear up," Brian Carnahan said while taking a break from shoveling his driveway.
Pedro Sanchez and his family came to Wilson from Texas to visit relatives, and he earned some points with his in-laws by helping clear the snow away.
"First, we uncovered the cars," Sanchez said. "Texas is cold, but not this cold."
Bill Ellis said the 2 feet of snow he pushed out of his restaurant parking lot on Monday was a small inconvenience when compared with the floodwaters left by Hurricane Floyd 11 years ago.
"It hurt business a little bit, but it comes back the next day," Ellis said of Sunday's snow.
Flight delays ripple across nation
At Raleigh-Durham International Airport, some travelers might wait until Tuesday or Wednesday to get out because airports in the Northeast remain closed because of the snow, spokesman Andrew Sawyer said. All runways at RDU were open Monday, and individual airlines were making decisions about flights.
RDU spokeswoman Mindy Hamlin said that about 110 flights into and out of the airport were canceled Monday, most involving travel to or from the Northeast. Delays and cancellations were rippling westward Monday, with Chicago, Atlanta, Cincinnati and Detroit reporting excessive delays, according to FlightStats.com.
Kate Skripova, a graduate student at Methodist University in Fayetteville, said she was trying to return to her home in Russia for the New Year's holiday but was told she would have to wait three or four days for a flight out of RDU.
"It's been a very bad night for me," Skripova said.
The delayed flight was only the latest bit of bad luck for her. Her car broke down in Charlotte on Sunday, and she had to wait five hours in the cold for a tow truck before making her way to Raleigh. There, she learned that her flight to New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport had been canceled.
"This would be the first time in six years (that I could spend) my New Year's at home, but it failed," she said. "I guess next year I'll have more luck."
Skripova said she planned to head back to Fayetteville and spend a few days with friends.
"I'm frustrated, but I'm so tired. I'm ready to go home and sleep," she said.
William Hamilton said he had to sleep at an area hotel Sunday night because his flight from RDU to London's Heathrow International Airport was canceled. He drove to the airport from Wilmington and plans to head to Geneva, Switzerland, for a ski vacation with his girlfriend's family.
"It's a little frustrating. Sometimes, you talk to somebody who really wants to help you, and sometimes, you will talk to somebody who will say, 'Tough luck,'" Hamilton said. "I just want to go somewhere. I don't want to hang out in the Raleigh airport any longer."
Rosalie Mandel, of Durham, said she hoped to salvage as much as possible of a family vacation to Barcelona, Spain. She was supposed to fly to JFK in New York with her granddaughter and meet two other grandchildren there for a flight to Europe, but the snow changed those plans.
"We got snowed out or snowed in, whichever way you want to put it," Mandel said. "I'm just hoping we can figure out a way to go (Tuesday), even if it will shorten the trip, because the grandchildren have been looking forward to it so much."
She and her granddaughter were booked on a Tuesday flight to Heathrow and hoped to meet the rest of the family in Barcelona.
Kim Snyder was one of the lucky ones at RDU. She was visiting relatives in Greenville and managed to catch a flight back to Chicago without any delay.
"I expected to see a lot of people hanging around, waiting for flights," Snyder said.
Her father-in-law wasn't so lucky. She said he's stranded in Massachusetts.
"We were trying to get him straight to Chicago or through (Washington) D.C., or anything," Snyder said. "Everything on the East Coast seems to be delayed or canceled."
Passengers should check with their airlines in advance. Most airlines have policies and plans posted on their website about changing travel dates. If re-booking is necessary, it's easier to call the airline's toll-free number than coming to the airport, according to Hamlin.
Trains slowed, but not buses
The snow also affected Amtrak train service along the East Coast.
Two trains that serve Raleigh were late Monday, and officials said Amtrak was scheduled for limited service south of Washington, D.C., to Richmond and Newport News, Va.
The commuter line between Washington and New York was running on schedule, officials said, but the Northeast Corridor line from New York to Boston lines also was on a limited schedule.
Greyhound interstate bus service wasn't affected by the storm, officials said, and the Capital Area Transit system in Raleigh was operating on its regular schedule on the major radial routes.