01/30/10 — Snow Day

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Snow Day

By Catharin Shepard And Matthew Whittle
Published in News on January 30, 2010 11:30 PM

After a day full of near misses and minor accidents, the dangers of the aftermath of Saturday's winter storm became apparent Saturday night when a North Carolina Department of Transportation truck with a plow attached struck and killed a pedestrian along U.S. 70 West, Sheriff Carey Winders said.

The Wayne County Sheriff's Office assisted the North Carolina Highway Patrol in responding to the scene at about 6:30 p.m. near Perkins Mill Road.

The victim, a young white male, Winders said, had not been identified at presstime, and the Highway Patrol investigation is ongoing, so it is not yet known what role weather and road conditions played into the accident.

Still, the fatality highlighted the one constant among the varying amount of accumulations in Wayne County -- the concern about hazardous road conditions as temperatures dropped and the slush churned up all day by drivers turned to ice.

By 6 p.m. Saturday, the state Highway Patrol had already responded to at least 25 wrecks in Wayne County since midnight, and was expecting more as conditions deteriorated, telecommunicator J.T. Smith said.

"(Roads are) still icy, and we're expecting black ice tonight, and things probably could get worse," Smith said Saturday evening.

It's a warning that N.C. Department of Transportation county maintenance supervisor Luther Thompson echoed.

"Folks don't need to be on the roads in the morning. I hope they stay home," he said at about 6:30 p.m. Saturday.

"We've got the majority of the four-lane highways (U.S. 70, U.S. 117 and Interstate 795) pushed, but there's still going to be the possibility of icy spots tonight," he said.

He also said crews were able to start on some of the primary two-lane roads in the southern end of the county, including N.C. 111, N.C. 55 and U.S. 13 South. However, he said, primary two-lane roads in the northern areas and the secondary roads were going to have to wait until today.

"That's all we could get to," Thompson said at about 6:30 p.m. "With temperatures falling below 20, there's not a whole lot we can do with the salt brine solution. It just won't have any effect on the ice."

So the Highway Patrol's advice for drivers is simple: Don't.

"Obviously we're advising people to stay off the road," Smith said.

Wayne County Sheriff Carey Winders also warned against unnecessary driving.

"The main roads have been scraped, but a lot of back roads are still in bad shape and will probably ice overnight," Winders said.

U.S. 13 and U.S. 117 have both been sprayed with brine, but officials expect black ice to be a problem.

Winders said he did not have a number for how many wrecks deputies responded to Saturday, but added that deputies were monitoring the driving situation.

The situation was much the same in the city, where the main roads were in pretty good shape, while secondary residential streets were still largely covered.

However, City Manager Joe Huffman said about 6:30 p.m. Saturday that crews from the city's Public Works Depart-ment had been out all day -- first putting down solutions of salt brine and sand to combat icing and then scraping roadways clear -- and that they would be back out today.

"There haven't been any major problems that I'm aware of," he said, adding that city police had responded to about five weather-related accidents so far.

County Emergency Man-agement Director Joe Gurley, also said his crew's day had been relatively quiet, although he acknowledged that as the sun went down and roads turned to sheets of ice, the call volume did begin to pick up.

But, Thompson said, DOT crews will be back at work at about 7 a.m., ready to scrape and lay salt brine.

"We'll be out in full force (today). I hope the sun comes out and it warms up some," he said. "If not, I think we'll still be trying to break the ice come Monday."

And while he might get his wish for better weather today with temperatures expected to rise into the lower 30s, meteorologist Brandon Dustan with the National Weather Service in Raleigh said temperatures are expected to dip back into the teens tonight, re-freezing any melted ice or snow.

"We're looking at several days where travel will be pretty dangerous," Dustan said.

Overall, the county's accumulation ranged from four inches of snow and ice in Pikeville and the northern parts of Wayne County, to up to three inches in Goldsboro and areas south

Dustan said areas farther north had the highest amounts of snowfall. Areas farther south saw more precipitation in the form of sleet or freezing rain.

"Essentially what was happening was the colder air mass was farther to the north, while you had a kind of warmer air mass to the south," Dustan said.

The warm, moist air from the south was feeding into the cold air above the surface. At about 6,000 to 7,000 feet above the ground, the temperature was approaching 3 degrees Celsius.

When moisture falls into an area of 3 degrees Celsius or greater, snow melts into a liquid form and falls to the ground as freezing rain. Or if it's cold enough, it will re-freeze and turn into sleet.

That's why the southern parts of Wayne County, and the southernmost parts of the state, got more ice than snow, Dustan explained.

"If you get more freezing rain, that's what's going to weigh your power lines down, possibly snap trees," he said.

Fortunately, Progress Energy officials reported only 300 customers affected by the storm, with most expected to have power restored by midnight. Also, Tri-County Electric only reported 10 customers affected.

Temperatures Saturday night dipped as low as 18 degrees, with a wind chill of 5 degrees above zero. However, the storm system that dropped the snow and ice on Wayne County moved out of the area Saturday night, shedding only a few final patches of sleet and freezing rain that were not expected to add much to the accumulation. A winter weather advisory was expected to remain in effect today.