01/20/05 — More snow on the way overnight

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More snow on the way overnight

By Staff and Wire
Published in News on January 20, 2005 2:18 PM

Wayne County's snow lovers had the best of both worlds Wednesday.

They got to see a dusting of the white stuff covering cars and grassy areas without the nasty road conditions that plagued Raleigh and other areas north and west of Goldsboro.

Snow flurries, which were not in the forecast Wednesday morning, started after noon and lasted for a couple hours, but most of Wayne County's roads -- with the exception of areas near the Wayne-Wilson line -- were just wet and had dried out by sunset when freezing temperatures re-turned.

But there's more on the way according to the National Weather Service. People who have to travel to work and school Friday might need to arise early and check road conditions.

The weather service is calling for snow accumulations of an inch or more for Wayne County overnight tonight. The chance of snow is 60 percent. Lows tonight will hover around 30 with highs Friday near 40.

And there's more.

The weather service calls for the possibility of rain on Saturday turning to snow showers by Saturday night. Rain and snow showers will continue into Sunday morning.

Chance of preceptitation both Saturday and Sunday is 80 percent.

The surprise 1-inch snow that turned to ice on frigid roads crippled the Raleigh area, freezing motorists in epic traffic jams and stranding some 3,000 students overnight at their schools.

Highways were clogged Wednesday with desperate drivers whose routine commutes stretched to as long as eight hours. Law officers tallied about 1,000 accidents in the Raleigh-Durham area, but there were no reports of fatalities.

Gov. Mike Easley declared a state of emergency late Wednesday, allowing him to open two state government buildings in downtown Raleigh as shelters to accommodate drivers.

Early today, the governor said residents should stay home, so Department of Transportation crews could finish trying to deal with the mess.

"I am urging citizens to cooperate with local officials so that we can clear the highways of ice to ensure safe travel," said Easley. "DOT crews have been out all night scraping the roads and spreading salt, but their work is not yet complete. If people can stay home, especially this morning, I am encouraging them to do so."

Some 3,000 students spent the night at Wake County schools after the system suspended bus operations and their parents were unable to retrieve them.

A schools spokesman said buses would begin running at 8:30 a.m. today to take the children home. Schools in Durham, Franklin, Granville and Wake counties were closed Thursday; elsewhere, many schools in the region were operating on a two-hour delay.

The traffic mess that resulted from the relatively mild snowfall stunned many.

"In the 24 years I've lived here, I have never encountered the traffic situation I saw today," WRAL-TV chief meteorologist Greg Fishel said. He apologized to his broadcast audience Wednesday for what he called the station's "embarrassing" forecast of a few flurries.

National Weather Service forecaster Brandon Locklear said very dry snow created ice crystals that packed onto road surfaces that were frigid after two days of below-freezing temperatures.

"What happened is you had the initial snow set in and you had some melting from the compression of people driving on the roads, followed rapidly by refreezing," he said.

Traffic jams caused by the icy roads were compounded by an early afternoon rush. Schools and companies closed early, unleashing thousands of vehicles at about the same time, Locklear said.

Road crews were forced to try applying melting agents to jammed roads that had been untreated.

Amid the chaos, motorists found shelter where they could.

Lisa Sun of Raleigh resigned herself to spending the night inside a Harris Teeter grocery store when police closed an ice-covered bridge, cutting her off from her home. After landing at Raleigh-Durham International Airport from a business trip to Ohio, she said she spent four hours covering a distance that usually takes half an hour.

"There was a slew of accidents," Sun said early Thursday.

Almost two dozen people were watching TV in chairs or sprawled on air mattresses at the 24-hour grocery.

"They have food and a rest room. We're pretty happy," Sun said.

It took salesman Brian Baldelli seven hours to go the nine miles on U.S. 64 between Knightdale and Raleigh.