An arctic air mass spread across the Carolinas on Monday, threatening to deliver the coldest temperatures in a decade and dangerous wind chills in the mountains.
With lows expected between 5 and 10 degrees Tuesday morning in the Charlotte area, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools and a number of other school systems responded by announcing delayed openings. CMS will open on a two-hour delayed basis -- an unusual move for the school system.
“Our students’ safety is our top priority,” Superintendent Heath Morrison said. “We do not want students waiting at bus stops in near-zero temperatures.”
Meanwhile, road crews worked to prevent black ice from forming on roads as temperatures tumbled toward freezing Monday afternoon.
And in the mountains, snow coated roadways and residents sought shelter from near-zero temperatures, 40 mph winds, and wind chills which could drop to -35 degrees.
Authorities expressed concern about the impact of the cold on people outdoors, the possibility of black ice developing due to runoff from Monday morning’s rain, and the threat of house fires.
In South Carolina, emergency management officials held a midday news conference and advised residents to check on elderly neighbors and take precautions to prevent fires. “Those are the two big concerns during this type of weather,” said Stephen Hudson, of the American Red Cross.
National Weather Service meteorologists predict Charlotte’s temperature will be near 8 degrees at daybreak Tuesday. That would break a 130-year-old record for the date of 12 degrees and would be the coldest since January 2003. The last time Charlotte had single-digit temperatures was a 9-degree reading on Jan. 17, 2009.
The delayed opening for CMS means the earliest openings will be about 9:15 a.m., for several of the system’s high schools. The latest openings will be after 11 a.m. The before-school programs will start at the usual time, CMS officials said, and dismissal times will not be affected. Employees are being asked to report at their normal times.
By mid-afternoon, a number of other systems also announced two-hour delays, including Gaston and Union counties.
Rain fell steadily Sunday and early Monday, leaving soggy ground and some runoff. Road crews across the Piedmont went to work Monday afternoon, spreading a brine mixture on the roads.
“Our drivers know those roads very well, and they know where to look for trouble,” said Linda Durrett, of the Charlotte Department of Transportation. She said six trucks operated during the daylight hours.
Jen Thompson of the N.C. Department of Transportation said officials hope sunshine and windy conditions in the afternoon will dry the roads before temperatures fall below freezing Monday evening. But Durrett and Thompson said both the city and state will have crews on call overnight to deal with problems that develop.
Officials across the Carolinas also issued warnings to residents about the possibility of frozen water lines in homes and problems with residential heating systems.
Pets also are a focus of concern. Authorities asked the public to bring dogs and cats indoors if possible, but officials in Mecklenburg and Gaston counties also announced that straw was being made available to residents, for use as bedding.
The Home Depot store in southwest Charlotte’s Rivergate area made bales of hay available to Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police’s Animal Care & Control. Free bales are available to the public Monday afternoon at the animal shelter, 8315 Byrum Drive in southwest Charlotte. In Gaston County, the bales are being sold for $6 and are available Monday afternoon at Dallas Feed and Seed, on East Trade Street in Dallas; at the Gaston Low-Cost Spay and Neuter Clinic, 972 East Franklin Boulevard; and at Bow Wow Boutique, 3745 South New Hope Road.
And officials at the North Carolina Zoo in Asheboro announced that facility will be closed Tuesday.
The coldest of the air wasn’t expected to arrive until Monday night and early Tuesday, but the North Carolina mountains got a strong taste Monday morning of what is to come. Grandfather Mountain, which had a temperature of 40 degrees at 2 a.m. was down to 6 degrees just eight hours later. Winds were gusting to 70 mph.
In Boone, the temperature tumbled from 45 degrees and rain at 2 a.m. to 15 degrees with snow at 12:30 p.m. Officials in Watauga County said wind-driven snow was causing whiteout conditions at times.
Jordan-Ashley Baker, of the N.C. Department of Transportation, said crews in Alleghany, Ashe, Avery and Watauga counties were battling wind-driven snow Monday afternoon. “The NCDOT will have overnight crews in these counties to continue with snow and ice removal,” Baker said.
With temperatures expected to remain below freezing for about 40 hours in the Charlotte area, home repair experts said it could be Tuesday before some residents discover they have frozen water lines. People were encouraged to disconnect hoses from outside spigots and to run a trickle of water from faucets Monday night and Tuesday.
Daytime high temperatures Tuesday are only expected to reach the mid 20s in Charlotte, and temperatures are predicted to fall into the low teens again Wednesday morning. Meteorologists say the arctic blast will relent Wednesday afternoon, with highs climbing into the mid and upper 30s. Much warmer conditions are forecast later in the week and for the weekend.