March 3, 2014

Charlotte apparently escapes black ice problems

Temperatures dropped to near record levels Tuesday morning, but it appears as if Charlotte escaped major problems with black ice.

Temperatures dropped to near record levels Tuesday morning, but it appears as if Charlotte escaped major problems with black ice.

There were few reports of ice patches on main thoroughfares before 6 a.m. Tuesday. The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools and most other nearby systems were operating on normal schedules.

Only the Alexander, Anson, Iredell-Statesville and Montgomery systems were opening on two-hour delays.

Road crews spread salt on Charlotte-area bridges and overpasses Monday afternoon as temperatures plummeted 20 degrees in four hours, changing afternoon rain to heavy sleet in places.

National Weather Service meteorologists said they were concerned that overnight cold could turn Monday evening’s water puddles into Tuesday morning’s dangerous ice patches. The service issued a winter weather advisory Monday evening warning of “widespread black ice.”

But forecasters said relatively warm ground temperatures and breezy conditions Monday evening managed to dry the roads before the rain and sleet could freeze.

Rain changed to sleet shortly after 4 p.m. in parts of the Charlotte area. Temperatures that were in the balmy mid- and upper-50s at daybreak Monday slipped below freezing in places like Concord, Salisbury, Mooresville and Statesville by late afternoon.

The heavier bands of precipitation early Monday evening were producing sleet at a rate of up to a half-inch per hour, and such a heavy concentration of sleet can cause slippery roads.

Road crews didn’t take any chances.

Both the city of Charlotte and the N.C. Department of Transportation sent crews out to spread salt Monday afternoon in typically ice-prone areas. Jen Thompson, a spokeswoman for the state DOT, said the salt and rain will help create a brine solution that officials hope will prevent ice from forming.

Thompson said trucks also are spreading salt in Cabarrus County, but not in Union or Anson counties, where the chances of sleet and freezing rain are lower.

Thompson and Charlotte DOT city spokeswoman Linda Durrett said crews would remain on duty overnight Monday, to deal with black ice.

Temperatures dropped into the upper teens and lower 20s Tuesday morning in the Charlotte area. At 6 a.m., it was 21 degrees in charlotte. The record low for the date is 15 degrees.

More significant winter weather was reported north of Charlotte. The rain changed to sleet and snow late Monday morning in Greensboro, Winston-Salem and the Raleigh-Durham area. About an inch of snow and sleet accumulated in the Winston-Salem and Greensboro areas early Monday evening.

As the cold front pushed southward Monday in North Carolina, the temperature drop was dramatic.

Charlotte’s reading fell from 54 degrees at Charlotte Douglas International Airport at noon to 34 degrees at 4 p.m. By the evening rush, readings were near freezing. Winston-Salem recorded a drop from 57 degrees at 7 a.m. to 39 degrees just three hours later.

The cold front’s progress slowed as it pushed through South Carolina, and Columbia remained in the mild air during the daylight hours. While Charlotte-area residents shivered in 33-degree readings at 5 p.m., it was 66 in Columbia and in the low 70s along the South Carolina coast.

Highs are only expected to reach the low and middle 40s Tuesday, despite sunny skies. Temperatures will recover to the mid-50s Wednesday before another storm system arrives Thursday.

The late-week storm originally had the potential of bringing sleet and heavy snow to the Carolinas, but computer models now indicate that temperatures will be above freezing levels in the Charlotte area, which means rain is the likely form of precipitation. Some freezing rain is possible Thursday morning along the Interstate 40 corridor and in the foothills, however.

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