12/27/04 — Storm a day late for white Christmas

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Storm a day late for white Christmas

By Staff and Wire
Published in News on December 27, 2004 1:57 PM

A winter storm left hundreds of travelers stranded on Interstate 95 in eastern North Carolina late Sunday, and contributed to hundreds of traffic accidents, at least two of them fatal.

Many Wayne County roads and parking lots were slippery this morning as melting snow and ice from Sunday afternoon refroze overnight.

It missed being a white Christmas by one day, but Oh! What a day it was.

Sleet began falling in Goldsboro about 4 a.m. then kicked over to snow around 6. The snow and sleet and freezing rain changed off several times during the early hours before becoming all freezing rain about noon.

The bursts of snow that did fall measured anywhere from 3 to 4 inches in the northwestern sections of the county to about 2 inches in the city of Goldsboro. Portions of southern Wayne County got more ice than snow.

Temperatures stayed at or near freezing most of the day and dropped to a low of 21 this morning. Highs were expected to be near 40 today before dropping to a low of 18 tonight.

Eastern North Carolina dodged the bullet, said Keith Westbrook, operations manager for Progress Energy's Goldsboro Operations Center, which covers seven counties.

"We were very lucky," he said. Not a significant number of customers lost power, he said. The high in Wayne County was 589 before 1 p.m. Sunday.

"We lost a couple of feeders due to pine limbs falling, but they were back on within 30 minutes," he said. A feeder is a substation that serves 2,000 or 3,000 customers.

A warming trend will erase the wintery mess in a few days. By New Year's Eve and through the rest of the weekend, highs of 65 to 70 are forecast with lows in the 40s.

Roads were expected to remain treacherous again tonight and officials warned drivers to avoid dangerous black ice on roads and bridges.

"So it's really going to be slippery and dangerous driving, especially in the morning," said Ruth Aiken, a National Weather Service meteorologist. "But as the day goes on, we expect the temperatures to warm up above freezing."

State officials said late Sunday that icy spots on northbound Interstate 95 at mile-marker 138 in Nash County and mile-marker 116 on southbound I-95 in Wilson County had traffic slowed to a crawl.

Several nonfatal accidents were reported and a shelter that can accommodate 1,500 people was being set up at a convention center in Nash County, said Patty McQuillan, spokeswoman with the state Department of Crime Control and Public Safety.

"All the motels in the Rocky Mount area are full," she said.

Traffic on southbound I-95 in Wilson County was backed up to the Virginia line, she said.

Up to 6 inches of snow and sleet fell by early afternoon along Interstate 95 in Nash, Edgecombe and Wilson counties, with lighter accumulations toward Fayetteville and the Sandhills.

Wake County also received about an inch before the storm moved to the north and east, dumping several more inches in northeastern counties. Portions of Bertie County reported more than 9 inches of snow and Northampton 8 inches, the weather service office said.

State Transportation Department trucks cleared snow- and ice-covered roads throughout Sunday to prevent refrozen roads overnight. Residents in rural counties where the most snow fell reported few problems.

McQuillan said state troopers working in Wake and 13 surrounding counties responded Sunday to more than 600 calls. On a typical Sunday they get about 50 calls, she said.

The patrol said the winter weather contributed to an accident that occurred when a motorist lost control of his speeding car on an icy N.C. Highway 97 in Wake County shortly after 4 a.m. The victim, identified as Bruno Ramirez, 47, of Zebulon, was thrown from the vehicle, patrol spokeswoman Patty McQuillan said.

Troopers were still investigating a Nash County accident that occurred about 4:15 a.m. Sunday that left one person dead, but the victim's name had not been released late Sunday.

About 7,000 customers were without electricity in Cumberland, Hoke, Robeson, and Scotland counties, the North Carolina Association of Electricity Cooperatives reported. A spokesman said power should be restored by Monday afternoon.

About 600 Progress Energy customers in Robeson and Scotland counties were without electricity at 10 p.m., but a spokeswoman said most should have their power restored by midnight.

The weather arrived as people travel through the state on their way home from Christmas holidays. An estimated 1.5 million people were expected to travel in the state this week.

Bernard Ross, of Jacksonville, Fla., spent the weekend celebrating the holidays in Charlottesville, Va., with his family.

Sunday afternoon, he picked ice chunks out of his windshield wipers at the Fayetteville rest stop on I-95. Earlier Sunday, Ross said, he had traveled 50 miles in three hours.

"I'm just trying to get back to Florida," he said. "If the weather will let me."

Several inches of snow fell Dec. 19-20 in portions of eastern North Carolina, surprising local residents who often can go an entire winter season without snow.

Freezing temperatures meeting moisture-laden air from a low pressure system coming along the coast produced Sunday's snow and sleet.

The snowfall also hindered after-Christmas shopping as the first flakes fell just a few hours before stores opened with post-holiday specials.


On the Net:

N.C. road conditions: http://www.ncsmartlink.org