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Black ice likely Wednesday morning, drivers urged to stay home

Posted January 11, 2011 3:57 a.m. EST
Updated January 12, 2011 5:05 a.m. EST

— Most major highways in central North Carolina had been cleared of snow and ice by midday Tuesday, but dropping temperatures after nightfall threatened to refreeze moisture on the ground, upping the chance for black ice.

Secondary roads also remained a challenge because they aren't as likely to be treated with brine and salt that helps melt ice from roads. 

Jason Holmes, director of operations for the Wake County division of the North Carolina Department of Transportation, said, "Interstates are relatively clear. They are passable. We are working on some major N.C. routes and then will turn our attention to secondary roads."

Slick, slushy roads made for tough traveling conditions across the Triangle Tuesday morning, and a repeat was expected Wednesday after another night of temperatures in the 20s.

"We could have a hard freeze (Tuesday night) that makes it dangerous to drive again in the morning," said WRAL meteorologist Mike Maze.

"There is a lot of potential for black ice in the morning hours," Holmes said. "There's no reason to be out on the roads (Wednesday) morning in these conditions."

The state Highway Patrol responded to almost 1,000 calls Tuesday morning and expected similar numbers Wednesday morning. Trooper Matt Young said the safest bet is to avoid the morning commute altogether.

"Our advice is to stay off the roads," Young said. "If you have to get on the roads, take it easy, drive slow, take your time and plan ahead."

Icy roads cause fender benders, two fatalities

The state Highway Patrol responded to more than 2,570 calls Monday after about 6 inches of snow fell in southern counties and freezing rain caused icy patches on Triangle roads, according to the North Carolina Department of Crime Control and Public Safety.

Drivers slipped and slid across the roads of central North Carolina, but most wrecks did not result in serious injuries. Two drivers died on the slick roads.

In Roxboro, Kirk Tyler Brothers, 25, lost control on Wrenn-Crumpton Road, struck a tree and overturned around 8:15 p.m. Monday, according to authorities. His passenger was injured but was expected to live.

In Lenoir County, Paula Grant Woolard, 32, of Caroline Nicole Drive in Kinston, slid off Pauls Path Road near LaGrange and struck a tree, according to the Highway Patrol. She died on impact. The 2-year-old child in her vehicle was not injured.

On Ellis Road in Durham, not far from N.C. Highway 147, several drivers slid off the frozen road, which they described as looking like an ice rink. 

Alejandro Horton's wife was one of the unlucky drivers who ended up in a ditch on the side of the road.

“She called me screaming that she cannot control the car and she was sliding down,” Horton said.

Edwards Mill Road behind Crabtree Valley Mall in Raleigh also proved challenging for many drivers. Some said they were stuck on the hill for hours.

"The roads out there look good. That's what I based it on," said Craig Baldwin, who was trying to deliver produce to a nearby restaurant. "We're not going to deliver to them (Tuesday). They'll get it (Wednesday), I guess. Hopefully, I won't be delivering up here."

Troopers closed part of Interstate 95 early Tuesday after several crashes in the same area. The most serious crash involved a tractor-trailer that wiped out on the Neuse River Bridge on Interstate 95 near Smithfield.

Rontavious Lewis, 20, of Georgia, was driving too fast on the icy highway, lost control and mowed down 300 feet of guard rail in the median, according to troopers. The cab of the truck popped off with Lewis and two passengers – Marvin Reese, 58, and John Trewitt, 20, both of Georgia – inside.

The men, who work for a moving company, were taken to a local hospital. They did not suffer serious injuries, but Reese had injuries to his face, authorities said.

Troopers charged Lewis with reckless driving.

Farther north on I-95, Lindsey Christenbury hit a patch of ice while on her way to work in Roanoke Rapids and rolled her Ford Bronco several times, crashing down a hill and ending up overturned.

"What's running through my head is I'm scared my truck's going to blow up. You see it in movies all the time," Christenbury said. "So I immediately call rescue to come get me, and before they get there, I've already kicked out the window to my vehicle and gotten out."

She escaped uninjured.

"Now, I just kind of have to wait because this was my only transportation, but we'll figure something out," she said.

A tractor-trailer driver crashed on Interstate 85 near exit 182, Red Mill Road, in Durham County Tuesday morning.

The driver, Leon Popa of Pennsylvania, was driving too fast, crashed through a guardrail and into a tree, according to troopers. He suffered injuries to his left arm and was taken to Duke University Hospital, troopers said.

"It's really bad. It's really bad. I'm just creeping now trying to make it back to the house," driver Robert Allen said.

Another tractor-trailer had trouble Tuesday morning as it became stuck at the intersection of Walker and Chatham streets in Cary and blocked two lanes of traffic.

Perdue praises DOT efforts

Gov. Beverly Perdue praised the DOT's preparation and clearing efforts but noted the cost.

The state budgeted $30 million for storm response in fiscal year 2010-11 and has spent $26 million so far, she said.

"If you could do anything for the state, you can pray hard that we get warm weather for the rest of the winter," she said.

Holmes said brine spread before the wintry mix fell gave crews a head start, preventing some ice from bonding to the road surface.

"It's better to be safe than sorry," the governor said.

She declared a state of emergency for the entire state Monday, long before any precipitation fell in Raleigh. "That helps some workers and businesses make their decisions," she explained Tuesday.

While hundreds of businesses were closed Tuesday, DOT crews were putting in 24-hour shifts and would be on standby again for Wednesday, Holmes said. 

Perdue said she was comfortable knowing that mature, highly-trained workers were on the job. "They will tell us if they've had enough," she said. "Our people make good health and safety decisions for themselves. 

Waiting for the warm-up

On Tuesday, the DOT was using salt to melt icy spots and sand to create traction where ice had accumulated.

Perdue asked the traveling public to stay off the roads to allow the DOT to finish its work.

"If you have any choice at all, stay home until it warms up a bit," she said.

Holmes said he hoped sun and evaporation would dry most roads by Wednesday afternoon.

The skies clear up for the rest of the week, Maze said, but blustery conditions Wednesday will make it feel like it is only in the 20s. A gradual warm-up completes the week, with the daytime highs reaching almost 50 degrees by Sunday.