Record snowfall paralyzed Triangle 10 years ago

Posted January 24, 2010 12:50 p.m. EST
Updated January 25, 2010 5:53 a.m. EST

— The snowfall of January 2000 shattered century-old records and set new ones that still stand.

Starting on the evening of Jan. 24, 2000, 20.3 inches of snow fell at Raleigh-Durham International Airport, setting records for the largest 24-hour snowfall, biggest single storm and the most snow in a month.

A stretch of North Carolina from the Sandhills through the Triangle north to the Virginia border got between 16 and 24 inches.

The snow paralyzed RDU and kept big rigs from rolling on Interstate 85 in Durham for hours. It snowed so hard that buses couldn't budge.

"We slept in the bus last night, and it looks like we'll do it again unless they put us up in a hotel," a Trailways bus passenger said.

The snow knocked out power to more than 100,000 homes and businesses in the Triangle.

It got so bad that Gov. Jim Hunt declared a state of emergency, called out the National Guard and urged everyone to keep their cool.

"This is tough, but we'll get through it if we keep our heads and don't do anything crazy," Hunt said.

Hundreds of businesses closed for days, Durham imposed a curfew to keep drivers off the streets, and icy roads kept many schools shut down the whole week.

"I could remember some of the snow would melt during the day, and the water was running across the road a ways," WRAL Chief Meteorologist Greg Fishel recalled. "When sunset hit, it would just turn into a sheet of ice."

"I asked my son not to drive the car," Raleigh Mayor Charles Meeker said. "When I came home from work, that's the first thing he and his friends had done – traveling all around the county, sliding around and having a good time."

Since that record storm, Raleigh has improved its snow-removal plan, particularly better communication among agencies. The mayor, though, said that a 20-inch snowstorm today would still cause big problems.

"The thoroughfares and bridges will get scraped in a day or two, but those neighborhood streets are going to stay icy for a long time," Meeker said. "The reality is we don't have snow that often. People just don't have the vehicles to needed to get around in deep snow."

Fishel agreed that when it snows as it did 10 years ago, the best course of action is just to stay home and enjoy it.

"The fun part was once I got off work, I got to go home and play in it," Fishel said.