Icy roads, schools closed in wake of winter storm

Jan. 29, 2014 @ 11:17 AM

For Roger Ramiro, it wasn't the snow that made his trip in North Carolina treacherous. It was the ice.

The truck driver said Wednesday that it took an extra hour to get from Charlotte to Greenville, S.C. After filling up with gas, he was ready to jump back on southbound Interstate 85 to continue his trip to Atlanta, where snow and ice brought traffic to a standstill overnight and into the morning.

"The snow hasn't been bad," said Ramiro, 34. "It was really a dusting. But everyone is worried about the ice. So people are driving really really slow. Nothing you can do about it."

All across North Carolina, residents were waking up to icy roads, snow and bone-chilling temperatures.

The snow ranged from an inch or two in the Piedmont to close to up to six inches east of Interstate 95. However, in many places in Eastern North Carolina those totals included sleet and ice, making the roads treacherous.

More snow and ice could still fall across parts of North Carolina on Wednesday. The National Weather Service said a winter storm warning was in effect along the coast until late afternoon. In the mountains and central part of the state, a winter weather advisory was in effect for snow-covered roads and black ice.

Road crews throughout the state were busy, scrapping highways and spreading salt and sand.

The North Carolina Highway Patrol said the weather was a factor in separate traffic accidents in Surry County that killed two people.

A passenger died Tuesday afternoon when a woman lost control of her pickup truck on a road covered with snow and ice. The truck went down an embankment and hit a tree. Troopers said 68-year-old Jean Conley of Elkin died. Troopers said it appeared the victim was not wearing a seat belt.

About the same time, two vehicles collided on N.C. 104 near Mount Airy. Thirty-seven-year-old Joyce M. McDaniel of Meadows Dan, Va., died. She was a passenger in a minivan involved in the crash. Troopers say the weather contributed to the crash.

The North Carolina Transportation Department said most roads in the state were hazardous Wednesday morning.

James Haverty of Asheville, who was headed to a meeting in Anderson, S.C., said he usually takes the back roads. Not today — he tried to stay on the major thoroughfares.

"I saw a lot of people skidding. It was dangerous - it was like a sheet of ice out there. This was one morning you really didn't want to be on the road," he said.

Duke Energy reported about 700 customers without service in Catawba County. Duke reported only about 100 customers without service in the area formerly served by Progress Energy.

North Carolina officials had braced for the storm, marshalling resources and stockpiling supplies for what could be a slow thaw. They compared the extent of preparations to what the state more typically does to prepare for a hurricane.

Gov. Pat McCrory huddled with his emergency management team in the high-tech bunker at the state's new Joint Force Headquarters in Raleigh. He preemptively signed a State of Emergency declaration, the first step in seeking federal funds for providing emergency services, clearing debris and repairing any damage to roads and bridges.

"Our goal is to be over prepared and hope this storm system is underwhelming," McCrory said.

School systems across much of North Carolina were closed Wednesday, including the Wake County and Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools.

Airports were scrambling to get back on track.

At Raleigh-Durham International Airport, the snow had stopped. Crews had cleared one runway and were working to clear another, spokesman Andrew Sawyer said.

While there were many cancellations for early flights, some were still on schedule, he said. He urged people to check with their airlines before heading to the airport.

In Charlotte, the city said all the roads were being treated with salt. But spokeswoman Kimberly McMillan warned that extreme cold temperatures were hampering and slowing down the effectiveness of the treatment.

North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper warned businesses and consumers about the state's price gouging law.

"It's wrong to use a crisis as an excuse to make an unfair buck," he said. "Most businesses pull together to help their community when bad weather hits, but if someone is using this storm to try to rip you off, we want to know about it."