Sleet, ice move into the Charlotte region; Up to half inch of ice forecast

Emergency workers and police at the scene of a multi-car collision that happened around 6:30PM on I-85 south bound near Sam Wilson road, southbound I-85 closed to one lane of travel on Monday Feb. 16, 2015.
Emergency workers and police at the scene of a multi-car collision that happened around 6:30PM on I-85 south bound near Sam Wilson road, southbound I-85 closed to one lane of travel on Monday Feb. 16, 2015. rlahser@charlotteobserver.com

Up to half an inch of ice was expected to coat the Charlotte region by Tuesday morning, making for a treacherous morning commute.

The weather system threatened to cause widespread power outages and has disrupted traffic, businesses and schools from the North Carolina mountains to Upstate South Carolina.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools will be closed Tuesday.

About 10 p.m. Monday, a steady patter of freezing rain was falling across the Charlotte region coating streets, trees and power lines and making roads slick. Meteorologists estimate the precipitation should fall until about 4 a.m.

Police and N.C. Highway Patrol troopers had investigated more than 100 crashes Monday night, most related to the icy conditions.

One wreck, near where Interstate 85 South meets Interstate 485 in the southern part of the county, resulted in I-85 being closed for nearly two hours.

“They’re reporting spotty ice across all of the interstates in Mecklenburg County,” said Jordan-Ashley Walker, spokeswoman for the N.C. Department of Transportation. “We’ve had rain mixed in with some kind of sleet and ice, and that’s all on the road.”

And Duke Energy workers were responding to 56 power outages late Monday, although crews were anticipating more as ice accumulated.

Charlotte Douglas International Airport had 475 flights headed into or out of the airport canceled Monday, according to flightaware.com.

Here are answers to your most pressing winter weather questions.

Tuesday morning conditions

Icy roads will be the main concern for morning driving. The area could also be dealing with power outages.

“The roads will be pretty treacherous, especially on bridges and overpasses,” meteorologist Andrew Kimball said.

The roads will be especially slick during the morning hours, but some of the ice should melt in the afternoon, when temperatures reach the low 40s.

Storm timeline

At 1 p.m. snow had reached the North Carolina mountains, with Franklin seeing snow starting at about noon, said Doug Outlaw, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service.

In Charlotte the wintry precipitation transitioned quickly to sleet and freezing rain.

The freezing rain was expected to fall until about 3 or 4 a.m. Tuesday.

The weather service said it expects 0.3 to 0.5 inches of ice in Charlotte overnight, increasing its previous estimate, and up to a half-inch of sleet.

A winter storm warning for the entire metro area is in effect through 7 a.m. Tuesday.

How severe?

More than a quarter-inch of ice can cause power outages if it builds up on trees and power lines, meteorologists said.

“When you’re heading up toward half an inch, you might see more power outages,” Kimball said.

A memorable storm that froze Charlotte in December 2002 accumulated up to three-quarters of an inch of ice. It left 1.4million Duke Energy customers without power.

Northern Mecklenburg was expected to get less than an inch of snow, and communities in the southern parts of the county such as Pineville and Matthews were expected to get “not much snow at all,” Outlaw said.

Duke Energy brought 260 line workers from Florida to South Carolina on Monday. Duke might bring in more crews from its territory in the Midwest if that region isn’t hit hard.

Cities, counties and governors of 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.

Week ahead

Partly sunny skies are forecast for Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, although it will remain cold.

“The problem is if everything doesn’t dry out and then you refreeze … you could have problems,” meteorologist John Tomko said.

Thursday’s high is forecast to be only 24 degrees, with a low of 9 degrees, said Kimball. Friday’s low is expected to be around 8, with a high of 31.

“We’re still forecasting a near-record low on Thursday morning and possibly dangerous wind chills, especially in the mountains,” said Kimball. “In Charlotte, the wind chills will get below zero.” Staff writer Bruce Henderson contributed.

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