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Mecklenburg County gets winter storm warning; ice expected

A winter storm is expected to hit the Charlotte region starting Monday, threatening to cause widespread power outages and disrupt traffic, businesses and schools from the North Carolina mountains to Upstate South Carolina.

The National Weather Service issued a winter storm warning for Monday for Mecklenburg County and all of the other counties in the Charlotte region.

The storm could bring substantial accumulation of ice, meteorologists said, which could cause power outages if a quarter-inch or more builds up on trees and power lines.

A National Weather Service spokesperson said the accumulations of ice were expected to be heavier in southern Mecklenburg County than in the northern part of the county.

“The closer you are to I-40, the more snow you’re going to get and the less ice,” said meteorologist John Tomko. “The closer you get to the South Carolina border, the more ice and the less snow you’re going to get.”

Late Sunday, the National Weather Service said the Charlotte area would get about 0.65 inches of precipitation. A quarter-inch of that will likely be ice that begins to coat streets, trees and power lines around 8 p.m. on Monday night.

The rest of the precipitation was expected to be snow and sleet, which will fall earlier in the day.

Still, it was unclear how much damage the precipitation would cause.

“It’s not going to be like the snowstorm last year,” said Scott Krentz, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service’s officer in Greer, S.C. “And it shouldn’t be as devastating as the 2002 ice storm, but it’s got potential to create some widespread damage – particularly tree damage and power lines.”

Further north, Iredell and Catawba counties could get 5 inches of snow.

Temperatures were expected to dip overnight, with the wind chill expected to fall to near zero by daybreak Monday.

“There will be no precipitation by Tuesday night,” said Tomko. “It will be completely out by then.” Tomko said a high of 40 degrees on Tuesday will help melt the ice on the roads.

Partly sunny skies are forecast for Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, although it will remain cold. Thursday’s high is forecast to be only 25 degrees, with a low of 7 degrees, said Tomko.

“The problem is if everything doesn’t dry out and then you refreeze with 23-degree temperatures on Wednesday morning, you could have problems,” Tomko said.

The weather threatened to cause problems for motorists, as well as closings.

In one respect, the storm was well-timed: For Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, Monday is a regularly scheduled workday with no classes, and some government offices were closed because of the Presidents Day holiday.

But Tuesday and later in the week could bring closings at CMS and elsewhere. CMS spokesperson Brian Hacker said in a news release that the district “will continue to monitor the weather conditions in collaboration with our county and city partners to determine the best and safest course of action for our employees and students throughout the week.”

Linda Durrett, Charlotte Department of Transportation’s spokeswoman, said crews were treating city streets with salt brine on Sunday afternoon in preparation for winter weather conditions.

She said the crews would target salt brining on bridges, main roads and hospital entrances.

The Charlotte Area Transit System said buses would run on their regular schedule Monday for as long as possible. The Lynx light rail line planned to operate on a regular schedule Monday, but riders should check the CATS website for any updates and schedule changes.

Garbage, recyclable and yard waste collection was scheduled to be normal Monday, but the Solid Waste Services department will evaluate roads at noon, and if conditions are worsening, yard waste collection will be suspended to help with the collection of garbage and recyclables.

The city will review collection schedules on Tuesday morning and make a decision about services based on the weather.

Tomko said those who don’t have to travel should consider staying at home. “For Charlotte, it’s a light snow event,” said Tomko. “I’m not going to say light snow can’t be a problem, but it’s really more of an ice problem for Charlotte now.”

Power outages are also a concern for residents in the county.

Strong winds knocked down power lines Saturday night, leaving about 1,570 homes in Mecklenburg County without electricity.

On Sunday afternoon, Duke Energy spokesman Randy Wheeless said crews were still working on power outages from Saturday night, with about 4,000 customers across the Carolinas without power on Sunday evening.

Duke said power to most customers would be restored Sunday, but a few might remain without power until Monday.

Duke Energy has about 4 million customers in the Carolinas, and about 185,000 were affected by the winds, the utility said.

Wheeless said the company is prepared to dispatch more crews to Charlotte if the need arises.

“As far as the next weather system, we are obviously tracking the weather to see what happens,” said Wheeless. “We have our own team of meteorologists who are tracking the weather from a power-outage situation.”

He encouraged customers to take inventory of what he called “power outage readiness.” He recommended that residents make sure they have flashlights, as well as working batteries for them.

Anyone who experiences a power outage can call 1-800-PowerOn, he said. Although the average time to restore power is three hours, he said “winter storms are very tricky.”

He said the company’s strategy would be to restore the most customers as quickly as possible. So if a tree falls in your yard and you’re the only one without power, your case will be lower priority, he said.

He added that residents should plan ahead for a prolonged outage.

“It’s always good to think about where you would go if the power was off for a day or a night,” he said.

He could not provide an estimate for expected power outages in the area, he said.

“The tricky thing about that storm right now is it’s changing a lot,” Wheeless said. “In a lot of ways, we have to wait to see how the storm rolls through to see exactly what kind of damage we’re talking about.”

The Charlotte area hasn’t seen a major ice storm since December 2002, when accumulating ice crippled much of the state, cutting power to nearly 2 million homes and businesses and leaving hundreds of thousands of residents without power for days.

Cities, counties and governors of both North Carolina and South Carolina issued emergency declarations that let officials restrict movement, raid budgets to pay overtime, regulate prices for key commodities and send out the National Guard, if needed.

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