Charlotte-area residents awoke Saturday to a snow-covered landscape and ice-covered roads, but not the widespread power outages that the first winter storm of the season left in the eastern part of the state.
Heavy freezing rain that had been feared locally fell instead along the U.S. 1 corridor, from Darlington, S.C., to Raleigh, knocking out power to about 200,000 customers.
Meanwhile, about an inch of snow fell overnight on the nearly 3 inches of sleet and snow that coated the ground Friday in Charlotte. Road crews worked through the night to clear major highways, but authorities said most thoroughfares remained at least partially ice-covered and slippery Saturday morning.
A few bands of snow showers are expected in the Charlotte area before noon. They are on the back side of a large and powerful storm spreading blizzard conditions up the East Coast on Saturday.
At 8 a.m., snow was falling in both the Charleston, S.C., and Savannah, Ga., areas. The S.C. Highway Patrol was forced to close a bridge on heavily traveled I-95 in Orangeburg County, between Columbia and Charleston, because of icing Saturday morning.
Forecasters expect only limited thawing Saturday, with temperatures only expected to reach 34 degrees under cloudy skies. Black ice likely will be a problem Sunday morning, because clearing overnight will allow temperatures to drop near 20 degrees.
Nice weather is expected Sunday for the Panthers’ NFC Championship game against the Arizona Cardinals, with sunshine during the day and highs in the mid 40s.
For some people, getting to Charlotte might be a problem.
Charlotte Douglas International Airport was essentially shut down Friday, as airlines canceled flights in and out of the city. Some flights are arriving and leaving Saturday, but with airports up the East Coast closed, passengers in Charlotte are still dealing with cancellations Saturday. For example, about 70 percent of departures between 7 and 9 a.m. were scrubbed in Charlotte.
Road crews in the Carolinas worked during the night to clear highways. The S.C. Department of Transportation said it operated more than 400 trucks and spread 677 tons of sand and 6,700 tons of salt on highways, mostly in counties bordering North Carolina. The N.C. DOT said late Friday that it had spread 30,000 tons of salt and had about 2,000 trucks operating.
The storm dropped mostly sleet and some freezing rain near Charlotte, but heavy snow fell along the Interstate 40 corridor and in the foothills and mountains.
To the east, it was a far different story. Duke Energy reported Saturday morning that 150,000 customers were without power, mostly in a corridor stretching from Darlington, S.C., to Raleigh. That was the result of freezing rain that had been expected in Charlotte.
“We really got lucky with this event,” said Trisha Palmer, of the National Weather Service office in Greer, S.C. She said the storm resulted “in more sleet than freezing rain, sparing us the power outages and ice-related impacts originally feared.”
If there was a bright spot to the storm, which is expected to turn into a raging blizzard farther up the East Coast, it was that Charlotte appeared to escape the heavy freezing rain that meteorologists had feared.
More than 61,000 customers were without power Saturday morning in Wake County, with another 28,000 outages in neighboring Johnston County. That is about 40 percent of Duke’s customers in that county. Nearly 70 percent of Duke Energy customers in Scotland County were without electricity Saturday morning.
Duke Energy had staged hundreds of repair trucks at Charlotte Motor Speedway, after meteorologists predicted the largest ice accumulations would be in the Charlotte area. Friday evening, those crews were on the move.
“With all the outages along the I-95 corridor, we are moving folks to the hardest-hit areas,” said Paige Sheehan, director of regional communications for Duke Energy.
Duke Energy Storm Director Bobby Simpson noted, “Just as the type of precipitation has been unpredictable, so is the path of the storm.”
Duke’s automated outage reporting system experienced occasional problems Friday, company officials said. “There were intermittent problems,” Sheehan said. “That happens at times when the system has an especially high volume. It might take a little longer for outages to show, but they show up in a short amount of time.”
The National Weather Service measured 2.7 inches of snow and sleet at Charlotte Douglas International Airport. Up to 18 inches was reported in Burke County to the northwest.
The sleet created hazardous driving conditions on Charlotte-area roads. The N.C. Highway Patrol reported 127 wrecks on interstate highways in the Charlotte region and 266 on all state and U.S. highways across the area between midnight and 5 p.m. Friday.
The Charlotte Checkers responded by telling the public not to attend their Friday evening game at Bojangles Coliseum, saying roads were too dangerous for fans. Instead, the Checkers played the Chicago Wolves in an empty arena.
Bad roads might have been a factor in two traffic-related deaths north of Charlotte. The N.C. Highway Patrol said a child was killed Friday afternoon in a wreck on northbound I-77 near Troutman in Iredell County. The child was a passenger in a pickup truck that hit the rear of a wrecker, according to WBTV.
Hickory police were investigating a fatal crash that might have been weather-related. Police said a woman was killed when a car went off a roadway in the early morning hours. Snow was falling at the time.
Despite the bad weather, the Carolina Panthers practiced outdoors Friday in preparation for Sunday night’s NFC Championship Game against the Arizona Cardinals.
However, hotel owners reported some fans who had planned to arrive in Charlotte on Friday for the game were unable to travel here.
Schools across the region canceled classes, and the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools announced that SAT testing scheduled for Saturday would not take place. The NASCAR Hall of Fame’s induction dinner and ceremony scheduled for Friday evening was postponed until 1 p.m. Saturday, said executive director Winston Kelley.
Charlotte area postal officials suspended mail collection from the family blue collection boxes Friday.
Mail delivery was suspended Friday for customers in ZIP codes beginning with 280, 281, 282, 287, 288 and 297. Retail services also were suspended.
Jonathan McFadden, Adam Bell, Cliff Harrington, Maria David, Jonathan Jones, Karen Garloch, Kathleen Purvis, Tracy Yochum, Doug Miller, WBTV and The Associated Press contributed.