Snow, sleet and freezing rain for North Carolina

By By MARTHA WAGGONER and EMERY P. DALESIO

Associated Press

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Updated at 6:55 P.M.

RALEIGH — Soo Keith left work in Raleigh a little after noon thinking she would have plenty of time to get home before the worst of the snow hit.

She was wrong.

She was able to drive only a few miles before she was forced to abandon her car and start walking, a blanket draped over her shoulders. Making it home more than four hours later, she compared her journey to the blizzard scene from “Dr. Zhivago.”

“My face is all frozen, my glasses are all frozen, my hair is all frozen,” said Keith, a 48-year-old mother of two. “I moved here from Chicago. I know how to drive in the snow. But this storm came on suddenly and everyone was leaving work at the same time. And there aren’t enough plows to clear the snow.”

As a third winter storm in as many days slammed into North Carolina, commutes that typically took minutes turned into hours-long ordeals. The National Weather Service issued a winter storm warning lasting into Thursday covering 95 of the state’s 100 counties.

The storm had been forecast well in advance. Still, within an hour of the first flakes falling main arteries in the state’s urban centers turned into skating rinks clogged with people trying to get home.

Traffic cameras trained on roadways in Charlotte and Raleigh showed traffic backed up for miles, reviving images of the mass paralysis that struck Atlanta two weeks ago. Many were already comparing the winter weather to big storms that hit the state in 2002 and 2005, resulting in a massive city-wide gridlock, children stranded at schools and power outages lasting more than a week.

Between midnight and 3:30 p.m. Wednesday, state troopers responded to 1,360 calls for service across the state. They typically handle about 800 calls a day.

Utilities reported about 100,000 power outages statewide — most in the state’s southeastern corner, where ice was snapping tree limbs and power lines.

Up to 10 inches was possible in the Asheville area, where heavy snow has already begun to fall. Up to 11 inches of snow was possible around Charlotte, with as much as 10 inches in the Greensboro and Winston-Salem areas. As much as 6 inches of snow could fall around Raleigh.

Only an inch or so of accumulation is expected in the eastern part of the state, but much of that was expected to be ice.

The sudden seriousness of the storm caught even Yankee transplant Caitlin Palmieri off guard. The worker at a bead store in downtown Raleigh said snow was already sticking to the roads by the time a co-worker called to advise her to head home as soon as possible.

“I pulled out of the parking lot, and I could feel my wheels spinning immediately,” said Palmieri, 26, who is spending her third winter in Raleigh after moving South from Clinton, N.Y. “It seemed like every other car was getting stuck, fishtailing.”

She was forced to park her car and walk back to work, unsure where she would spend the night.

Emergency shelters were opening statewide. A suburban mall in Durham announced it would keep its doors open as late for stranded motorists coming from nearby Interstate 40.

Authorities said a woman died in a weather-related traffic accident in Moore County when a car in which she was a passenger struck a tree. A state Highway Patrol trooper was hospitalized after his parked cruiser was struck by another car.

Gov. Pat McCrory signed orders in advance of the storm declaring an emergency, freeing state resources to react. The governor urged residents to prepare for power outages by plugging in cellphones and finding batteries for radios and flashlights.

McCrory also urged people to get home and stay off slick roads.

“Stay smart. Don’t put your stupid hat on at this point in time. Protect yourself. Protect your family. Protect your neighbors,” McCrory said.

IIn a sign of the gravity of the situation, Wednesday night’s Tobacco Road rivalry game between Duke and North Carolina was postponed after the Blue Devils’ bus wasn’t able to make it to the 11-mile drive from Durham to Chapel Hill.

Duke Energy spokeswoman Meghan Musgrave says the utility has about 3,400 field workers on the ground in North Carolina and South Carolina, including 500 from out of state. Those workers are in Greensboro and Florence until Duke determines where they’re needed.

Workers from Florida are staying in South Carolina, while people from the Midwest will help in North Carolina. Duke has about 715,000 customers in South Carolina and about 3.2 million in North Carolina.

Dain Anderson was among those preparing for the possibility of days without electricity. He pushed a cart out of a Lowe’s home improvement store in Durham with batteries, a big flashlight, a bag of sand and a snow shovel.

Anderson is no stranger to snow, having moved to the Triangle from Denver, Colo., years ago. But he remembers well the big ice storm in 2002 and a cold week living in the dark.

“It’s pathetic, really,” he joked, after being asked what he thought of how a few inches of snow could paralyze the South. “But I’m not taking any chances this time. I’m getting ready.”

“Stay smart. Don’t put your stupid hat on at this point in time. Protect yourself. Protect your family. Protect your neighbors,” McCrory said.

Meanwhile, North Carolina’s electric cooperatives are reporting 20,000 outages, all in the southeastern portion of the state. About 18,000 of those outages are located in Brunswick County.

Accumulations of ice and snow could lead to outages in other areas as the storm continues to make its way across the state.  Ice accumulation is the greatest concern, as it can weigh down power lines and snap tree limbs, causing power outages.

In the event of an outage, an alternate heating source—such as a fireplace, propane space heater, or wood stove—may be used, but extreme caution should be taken. Do not use charcoal or a gas-powered oven for heating. If you use a portable generator to power a heating source, be sure the generator is located outside your house for proper ventilation. Do not use a generator in an attached garage. Follow the manufacturer’s directions for operating the generator.

North Carolina’s electric cooperatives are monitoring conditions and responding to outages as quickly as possible. Electric cooperative members are asked to call their cooperative directly if they experience a disruption in power. For phone numbers to report outages and the counties served by each co-op, refer to www.ncelectriccooperatives.com/co-ops/coopList.htm.

North Carolina’s electric cooperatives serve more than 2.5 million people in 93 of the state’s 100 counties.

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Pregnant NC woman walks home to avoid traffic woes

RALEIGH (AP) — Sarah Cengel’s ordeal began about 12:30 p.m. when she left her job as a mental health therapist. It ended three hours, when she finally walked through the doors of her home, courtesy of one stranger who walked part of the way with her and another who gave her a ride to a spot near her home.
Cengel, who is almost four months’ pregnant, left work and stopped at a grocery store. The snow was light, so she didn’t expect problems; even the Raleigh Beltline was passable. Slick, but passable.
She took a different exit than her usual one in west Raleigh, thinking it would be in bad shape. That was a mistake.
“It was a sheet of ice,” she said. “I saw people fishtailing, swerving all over the road. Nobody was going very fast, and they weren’t able to get any traction.”
She parked at a Kmart and warmed up there as it was closing. She called her husband to see if he could help. Then she started walking, wearing a coat that doesn’t zip because she’s pregnant and dress shoes. A man walked part of the way with her, giving her a hat.
Her husband, who had hitched a ride with a stranger, caught up with her in a grocery store parking lot. The stranger got them to within a half-mile of their home. By then, she had changed into the boots that her husband, John, brought with him.
“I didn’t expect it to happen so fast,” she said, echoing what other people said about the storm that caught them off guard.
“While I was on the beltline, it just didn’t seem that bad. It wasn’t until I got off that exit that I realized I wasn’t going to be able to drive. ... I usually err on the side of caution. This is the exception to how I usually do stuff. I’m not going to try to get around in this again.”

• • •

Chicago transplant walks 5 miles to get home

RALEIGH (AP) — Soo Keith, who moved to Raleigh from Chicago, said she left work about 12:30 p.m., thinking she would have plenty of time to check on some dogs that she cares for and get home before the worst of the snow hit.
She was wrong.
Keith drove for about two hours, getting just a few miles, before she was stuck in congestion. She rolled down her window and asked a police officer who walking nearby to help her park her car in a safe place. Then, she started walking the approximately five miles to her home and her two children, ages 14 and 12.
She compared the scene to one from the movie “Dr. Zhivago.”
“My face is all frozen, my glasses are all frozen, my hair is all frozen,” she said as she walked the final mile home.
Keith was wearing a heavy coat and sensible shoes for the snow but no hat or gloves. Fortunately, she keeps blankets in her car so she draped one of those over her for her hike.
“I moved here from Chicago; I know how to drive in the snow,” she said. But this storm “came on suddenly and everyone was leaving work at the same time,” she said. “I don’t think anybody did anything wrong; the weather just hit quickly. And there aren’t enough plows to clear the snow.”
Before Keith parked her car, she did manage to roll down her window and yell out advice to fellow drivers: Don’t gun your engine, tap your accelerator. And tap your brakes as well if you have to stop.

• • •

Carolina Shores woman concerned about ice on trees

CAROLINA SHORES (AP) — It wasn’t the ice that concerned Debbie Cole. It was the trees surrounding her house.
Cole, 54, who lives with her 88-year-old mother at Carolina Shores, said her power flickered but remained on during the day Wednesday. The pines were her chief concern.
“We have limbs coming down all around us,:” she said. “Our street had a big tree fall right across the road and they did come through and chop that up for us.”
Cole said she’s even afraid to leave the house and take a look around.
“You cannot go outside. It’s very, very dangerous with all the falling debris from the trees. Even pine cones are like grenades,” she said.
“You go outside and it almost sounds like gunfire with all the limbs coming down. Cars are going through on the road. The road is wet. But it’s the falling limbs and the falling trees, and from what I hear, the falling power lines,” Cole said.
Cole said she and her mother will stay by the fireplace and ride out the weather, especially of the power goes out.

• • •

NC hoops fanatic harbored hopes of seeing Duke-UNC

WILMINGTON (AP) — Kathy Davies Muzzey hid the car keys from her husband Tuesday night because he was still thinking about driving from Wilmington to Chapel Hill for the basketball game between Duke and North Carolina.
John Muzzey has missed only two games between the arch rivals since he left school in the late 1960s and didn’t want to miss a third.
Instead, he risked having a tree limb or chunks of ice fall on him when he went outside to turn on a generator — which he hoped to connect to a television for watching the game, and not the refrigerator.
“He’s a fanatic — an absolute fanatic,” Davies Muzzey said. Her husband thinks the food will stay cold enough that they can hook up the generator to the refrigerator Thursday morning, she said.
Their power went out about 11:30 a.m. Wednesday, and they were using a portable heater for warmth.
They bought the generator for their first hurricane season after they moved to Wilmington about 10 years ago, not thinking they would need it for an ice storm along North Carolina’s coast.
Ice encased tree limbs, which fell with some regularity.
“Oh, there goes another branch now,” Davies Muzzey said as she talked. A tree branch had hit their windshield but they couldn’t see if it was damaged, and a limb hit their neighbor’s car, knocking out that rear windshield. Two trees blocked their road.
Now, John Muzzey won’t have to worry about missing the Duke-Carolina game. It was postponed Wednesday evening and rescheduled for Feb. 20.

• • •

Charlotte bike messenger continues rounds in snow

CHARLOTTE (AP) — Bill Fehr had no qualms about going about his rounds in downtown Charlotte, adopting the postman’s creed to continue making his deliveries despite the unrelenting snow.
Fehr, 44, is a bike messenger, and even with the snow swirling and temperatures in the 20s, he was working Uptown Charlotte and staying on pace to complete his route.
“To have 36 law firms that are relying on your services all year round in Mecklenburg County, there’s myself and three other guys working with me.” said Fehr, who was wearing a helmet, sunglasses and pants that went down to his knees. “They’re doing the same thing I’m doing.”
Fehr said at least three of the firms he serves are working today because they’re international companies, so he was expecting to make deliveries for them, and he thinks he will be working on Thursday, when more winter weather is anticipated.
Fehr has a 10-mile commute on his bike simply to get to his route. When his day was done, he expected to make the ride back home.
“Ultimately, if I have to sledge and drag my bike on my shoulder, I know I can walk 10½ miles in three hours. I was in the Marine Corps for five years in the late ‘80s,” he said. “When you have a Marine experience, anything else that you can face is really not that big of a deal.”
As for riding out the storm, Fehr said he has a significant supply of food at home. However, while his dogs and one of his daughters will be at home with him, his wife will be downtown.
“She is sequestered on a municipal bonds desk, which means she’s in for the night at the hotel,” he said. “My daughter’s home right now, taking care of the house and the dogs.”