The Charlotte region is bracing for potentially crippling ice and snow which started early Friday. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools officials canceled classes, and Gov. Pat McCrory declared a state of emergency for North Carolina.
CMS officials set Jan. 25, originally a teacher workday, as the makeup day. Essential employees will report to work Friday, officials said.
Other school systems also announced closings, including schools in Anson, Gaston and Lincoln counties, the city of Hickory and Rowan-Salisbury schools. UNC Charlotte, Wingate University and Appalachian State University won’t hold classes Friday.
In Raleigh, McCrory said the goal was to be “overprepared and, hopefully, underwhelmed.” He said he hoped forecasters were wrong, but “if they’re not wrong, we are going to be prepared.”
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At a news conference, North Carolina officials said the state had activated its emergency operations center. More than 1,000 state transportation workers were ready to respond where needed, said N.C. Transportation Secretary Nick Tennyson. He urged drivers to stay off the roads, but officials said Highway Patrol troopers plan to tag any abandoned vehicles they find.
“You can say, ‘I’m a good driver.’ But it’s not just you who’s out there,” Tennyson said. “You’ll have to deal with other people who are out there, too.”
Officials said they had already responded to two storm-related vehicle fatalities in Stokes and Forsyth counties.
A winter storm warning is in effect for nearly the entire Charlotte region through 7 p.m. Saturday.
National Weather Service forecasters said Charlotte could expect .34 inch of ice from the system, more than enough to bring down tree limbs and power lines.
The winter system also will bring snow. Charlotte can expect up to 4.5 inches of snow during the storm through early Sunday, according to the weather service. Other communities should see even more snow. Hickory may get up to 12 inches of snow, Statesville up to 10 inches, Gastonia as much as 5.5 inches and Concord 5 inches.
Ice also is expected elsewhere, including a forecast of 0.41 inch in Monroe and 0.31 inch in Concord, forecasters said.
In advance of the storm, a cavalcade of agencies responsible for keeping people moving, warm and safe kept tabs on the storm and prepared for the worst.
Street crews in Charlotte and surrounding cities and towns spent Thursday spreading brine on roads and bridges. The city’s transportation department deployed 36 trucks, 73 street maintenance crew members and necessary support staff in 12-hour shifts from 7 a.m. Friday to 7 p.m. Saturday.
Matthews Public Works crews also treated local bridges and “hot spots” with brine. Town officials said trucks are equipped with plows and spreaders, and chainsaws are ready to remove trees from roads.
More than 1,300 power line workers were headed to the Carolinas on Thursday – mostly from Florida – to join 3,200 local crew members, Duke Energy said.
American Airlines announced it was canceling all Friday flights to and from Charlotte Douglas International Airport. Yet crews will still work 12-hour shifts to keep runways clear and roadways around the terminal open, said Deputy Aviation Director Jack Christine.
Though there will be hardly any passengers, Christine said it’s important to keep the airport open so it can be ready as soon as the airlines resume flying. “Snow is very different from ice,” said Christine. “Charlotte does sometimes lend itself more to ice than snow.”
Storm and football
As the winter storm moves through the Charlotte area, evaluation of streets and roads will be ongoing and work adjusted as warranted. Ice accumulation will be a big concern over the next few days.
Tim Gause, Duke Energy district manager, said at a news conference in Charlotte on Thursday that it only takes a quarter-inch of ice for tree limbs to break and fall on power lines.
Several officials urged residents to avoid traveling if possible and keep clear of heavy equipment and trucks treating roads. All downed power lines should be considered live, Gause said.
Customers who experience a power outage during the storm should call Duke Energy’s automated outage-reporting system at 1-800-POWERON (1-800-769-3766). Customers can also report an outage and view current outages at www.duke-energy.com/storms.
Rain, snow and sleet were expected to begin falling well before dawn Friday and continue throughout the day. The precipitation is forecast to taper off on Saturday afternoon.
The low for Friday is expected to fall to 30 degrees, then to 24 degrees on Saturday. The high Friday isn’t expected to rise above freezing at 31. Temperatures should begin to rise on Saturday (to 34 degrees), Sunday (44) and Monday (49 degrees), forecasters said.
Complicating matters, the storm collides with the televised NASCAR Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony uptown, when five new members will be inducted. The ceremony was about the only Friday event that officials said with certainty would not be canceled.
It also comes on the biggest weekend of the Carolina Panthers’ season, when the Panthers play the Arizona Cardinals for the NFC Championship at Bank of America Stadium.
Thursday, Charlotte officials canceled a Panthers Pride Rally, scheduled for lunchtime Friday. Saturday and Sunday, thousands of football fans may face slick roads to Charlotte.
The Cardinals are due to fly to Charlotte Saturday morning.
Charlotte City Manager Ron Carlee said at Thursday’s news conference the storm appears to be “a short-term event,” giving Charlotteans time to get out Saturday to welcome fans from Arizona.
He urged the city to show its friendliness, “making (Arizona fans) love the city and be envious of everything we have here.” Then, he said, he hoped they’d go home “well-consoled after losing the NFC championship. So Go Panthers, everybody!”
Jonathan McFadden, Ely Portillo, Cleve R. Wootson Jr. and Steve Lyttle contributed.
American Airlines said Thursday it was canceling all flights to and from Charlotte on Friday. Other airlines also grounded their Friday flights, including Southwest, Lufthansa, Air Canada, ViaAir and JetBlue. Limited flights were planned by United and Delta. Passengers are urged to contact their airline regarding their flight status before leaving for the airport.