Meteorologists say utility crews and North Carolina residents will get several days of springlike weather to help them clear away the mess left by the most damaging winter storm in more than a decade.
While the powerful low pressure system was mostly an inconvenience in the immediate Charlotte area, it left flooded roads in Cabarrus and Union counties and much bigger problems to the north, where more than 460,000 customers were without electricity late Friday afternoon.
Utilities company officials said it could be several days before all electricity is restored.
Gov. Pat McCrory declared a state of emergency, hoping to speed the process of clearing downed trees and power lines that blocked roads in a 20-county area stretching from Charlotte’s northern suburbs to the western edge of Raleigh.
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“Today we’re seeing more power outages than we had during any of the previous storms this year, and we need to do all that we can as quickly as we can to help those in need,” McCrory said.
The storm’s victims included passengers on Amtrak’s Carolinian, which left Charlotte on Friday morning but never reached its destination in Raleigh. Power lines dangled over the tracks near Thomasville, bringing the train to a halt. After waiting a few hours, the train was taken back to Salisbury, and the passengers were bused back to Charlotte.
Forecasters say much nicer conditions are ahead this weekend and into early next week. High temperatures are predicted to reach the mid- and upper 60s Saturday and Sunday and then the lower 70s early in the week.
Nearly a half-million North Carolina customers were without power late Friday afternoon, including about 370,000 from Duke Energy and more than 69,000 from the state’s electric cooperatives. In the Charlotte area, the worst conditions were in Rowan County, which reported 19,510 outages, or about one-third of the county’s customers.
At one point Friday afternoon, all but 55 of Davidson County’s 33,095 Duke Energy customers were reporting outages, according to the Duke website. The Greensboro area also was hard hit, as three-quarters of Guilford County’s 203,000 Duke customers were without power.
In Rowan County, a school bus hit a patch of ice about 6:45 a.m. on Sherrills Ford Road and slid down an embankment, according to the N.C. Highway Patrol. And power lines fell on top of a Charlotte-Mecklenburg school bus about 6:15 a.m., trapping the driver inside.
Greensboro and Winston-Salem were hard hit by freezing rain. Police report numerous downed trees and power lines in the area. Officials at the ACC Women’s Basketball Tournament in Greensboro announced a one-hour delay in the early games.
The immediate Charlotte area was near the dividing line between rain and frozen precipitation. More than 2 inches of rain fell at Charlotte Douglas International Airport, and heavier amounts were reported in parts of Union and Cabarrus counties.
The National Weather Service issued separate flood warnings for Mallard Creek in Mecklenburg and Cabarrus counties and for Goose Creek in Union County. Both creeks went out of their banks and flooded roads. Heavy rain caused flooding on other creeks in Cabarrus and Stanly counties.
The N.C. Department of Transportation said its crews had closed a half-dozen roads – Hopewell Church Road, between Kiser and Garmon Mill roads in Midland; Lake Lynn Road at Twinfield Drive in Concord; Bowman Barrier Road, between Long Run Farm and Eastover roads in Mount Pleasant; Pharr Mill Road, between Rocky River and Sequoia Hills roads in Harrisburg; Hahn Scott Road at Lambert Road in Mount Pleasant; and Pinebluff Road at Bluffton Drive in Midland.
Jen Thompson of the DOT said a washout was reported on Pinebluff Road, which was barricaded Friday afternoon.
On Lancer Drive, off Rea Road in southeast Charlotte, power lines fell onto Charlotte-Mecklenburg School Bus 750 about 6:15 a.m. The incident took place near Providence Lane West. The bus was starting its run to pick up students from Myers Park High School, but no students were aboard. The driver was not hurt.
Major ice storm
Over an area of about 20 counties, stretching from just north of Charlotte to near Raleigh, freezing rain fell for several hours early Friday. The result was the largest number of power outages from a winter storm in many years, apparently since a December 2002 ice storm.
Friday’s storm came three weeks after a similar storm coated much of South Carolina with damaging ice accumulations. This time, the downed trees and power lines were in North Carolina.
“Additional crews from neighboring cooperatives have arrived and are assisting with our restoration efforts,” David Schleicher, a vice president with Statesville-based cooperative EnergyUnited, said late Friday afternoon. “We are seeing substantial damage from ice-laden tree branches impacting poles and downing many spans of wire.”
Schleicher said officials anticipate it will be late Sunday before all repairs are made.
Jane Pritchard, a spokeswoman with the North Carolina electric cooperatives, said crews from areas of the state not hard hit by the storm were being sent to help restore power to customers with EnergyUnited (based in Statesville), Piedmont Electric (Hillsborough), Surry-Yadkin EMC (Dobson) and Randolph EMC (Asheboro).
The northern Rowan County town of Spencer reported that most residents and businesses were without electricity Friday morning. In Mooresville, Sellers said police and fire crews were busy since late Thursday dealing with downed trees and power lines.
Emergency shelters were opened in several counties, and N.C. Public Safety Secretary Frank Perry urged residents to help one another.
“If the power is out in your neighborhood and you have elderly neighbors, please check to be sure they are warm,” he said.
A Rowan-Salisbury Schools bus hit a patch of ice and slid down an embankment on Sherrills Ford Road about 6:45 a.m. Friday, according to the Highway Patrol. The bus hit a utility line, but troopers said the driver and three students on the bus were not injured.
In higher elevations, much of the precipitation fell as snow. Areas above 3,500 feet generally received 3 to 6 inches of snow. Officials in McDowell County reported 10 inches of snow near the town of Busick.