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After 43 hours, Charlotte cracks the freezing mark

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Meteorologists say the Carolinas will catch at least a weeklong break from frigid weather, in the wake of an arctic outburst that sent temperatures below freezing in Charlotte for 43 hours.

The thermometer crossed the freezing level at midday Wednesday, marking at least a symbolic end to a cold snap that provided Carolinas residents with an assortment of problems such as cars that wouldn’t start, home heating systems that wouldn’t work, and water lines that froze and ruptured.

Officials in Cherokee County, S.C., about 50 miles southwest of Charlotte, were investigating a death that might have been due in part to the cold wave.

Forecasters say clouds on Thursday and Friday will put a lid on the region’s recovery from the early-week chill, with highs in the mid-40s the next two days. But the weekend is expected to produce temperatures around 60 degrees both Saturday and Sunday.

And Panthers’ fans won’t have to worry about getting wet at the NFL playoff game Sunday against the San Francisco 49ers.

“Sunday looks dry,” said Jake Wimberley, of the National Weather Service office in Greer, S.C.

Wimberley said the return to milder weather is expected to last through the early part of next week.

One sign of a return to normal was the announcement Wednesday afternoon by Charlotte-Mecklenburg School officials that the system will operate on a normal schedule Thursday. That follows two straight days in which CMS had a two-hour delay to the start of classes.

Higher-than-average electricity and natural gas bills probably will be one impact of the cold snap.

Duke Energy officials said Carolinas residents set a record for winter electricity use. After two days of dealing with a number of power outages, Duke repair crews were able to ease up Wednesday. At midday, the company reported only a few hundred outages, a tiny fraction of the number of customers without electricity Monday night and early Tuesday.

Duke Energy said customers set a record by using 20,246 megawatt-hours between 7 and 8 a.m. Tuesday. It broke the record of 18,985 megawatt-hours, set Dec. 15, 2010. Records also were set in Duke’s Indiana, Ohio-Kentucky and Progress (eastern North Carolina) divisions.

The company asked customers throughout the Carolinas to conserve electricity, and officials said use had decreased Wednesday morning.

“Because of our customers’ willingness to make minor changes in their daily routines yesterday, we were able to keep power flowing during this historic winter event,” said Duke Energy vice president Nelson Peeler.

Cherokee County Coroner Dennis Fowler said authorities are investigating the death of Hank Duane Reynolds, 58, of Chesnee, S.C. Reynolds’ body was discovered about 8 a.m. Tuesday, in a field near a homeless shelter in Gaffney. Fowler said authorities learned Reynolds had been taken to the shelter by paramedics after he complained he didn’t have heat in his home. After eating dinner at the shelter, Fowler said, Reynolds apparently walked out.

“My investigation indicates Reynolds could have been sick when he left and just walked across the road and laid down in the field,” Fowler said. Temperatures were between 5 and 10 degrees Tuesday morning in Gaffney.

Charlotte’s unofficial low temperature Wednesday morning was 13 degrees, which was far below the seasonal average of 31 but also less harsh than the 6-degree record-setting low Tuesday. That temperature was the coldest in Charlotte since January 1994. Even Boone, which recorded a low of minus 8 degrees Tuesday, had a low temperature Wednesday of 7.

And Boone also climbed above freezing at midday, reaching 33 degrees.

Tow truck drivers were busy again Wednesday morning, helping motorists whose vehicles wouldn’t start on a morning when the temperature reached 13 degrees in Charlotte. And plumbers continued responding to calls about water lines that froze and then broke.

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