As Charlotte’s snow melts, airport, city work resumes, but storm’s death toll climbs to 9

The Charlotte region started to return to normal Friday after the worst winter storm in a decade. But it may take another day for airport operations to fully recover, after airlines canceled hundreds of flights.

On Friday, sunshine and temperatures in the 50s improved travel conditions around the Carolinas. And they should continue to get better Saturday: The National Weather Service expected the temperature to stay above freezing overnight with possible rain.

Areas north of the city could see a brief mix of snow, but accumulation isn’t expected.

“Snow will slowly melt overnight and road conditions should not become any worse,” said meteorologist Bryan McAvoy.

Spring-like weather could reach the area by the end of next week, with temperatures near 70 by Thursday, forecasters said.

At Charlotte Douglas International Airport, 364 arrivals and departures had been canceled by Friday afternoon, according to FlightStats.com. That’s about 25 percent of the airport’s daily total.

US Airways/American Chief Operating Officer Robert Isom told employees in a letter Friday that more than 6,000 combined flights had been canceled during the past week across the country, almost 3,000 on Thursday alone. Charlotte is American’s second-busiest hub.

US Airways spokesman Davien Anderson said the airline hopes to have operations back to normal Saturday but definitely by Sunday.

Velma and Terri Snipes, sisters who flew into Charlotte on Tuesday for a funeral, had been trying to get home to Philadelphia since Wednesday evening. Velma Snipes said their Southwest flight was first canceled around 5:30 p.m. Wednesday.

“It had just started snowing, but they said nothing was moving from this airport,” Velma said, calling it “unbelievable.”

The sisters sat in a row of chairs in front of the Southwest ticket counter Friday afternoon, after being told they couldn’t go through security until midnight. Their connection in Chicago had been canceled due to weather, Velma Snipes said.

“People have been very nice, very hospitable,” she said.

“Do we want to continue staying? Absolutely not,” she said with a laugh.

Motorists trying to leave the airport’s daily parking decks also experienced delays Friday evening, as vehicles struggled to gain traction over slushy mounds of snow and ice, and only two pay booths were in operation.

The city of Charlotte plans to continue its work of clearing residential roads Saturday, after focusing on main roads and key residential roads over the past two days, said Linda Durrett of the Charlotte Department of Transportation.

At least 15 contractors worked throughout the city Friday to remove snow, she said. Despite all-night work by road crews, temperatures fell below freezing Friday morning and allowed Thursday afternoon’s melted snow to become ice. That led to several crashes and stranded vehicles on roadways across the region.

Utility line crews continued making progress at restoring power. The number of customers without electricity dropped from more than 400,000 late Thursday to about 200,000 a day later. Most of those were in South Carolina. In Mecklenburg County, about 400 outages remained Friday evening, according to Duke Energy.

Meanwhile, Attorney General Roy Cooper on Friday issued a warning to towing companies that bad weather doesn’t justify raising prices. Cooper said more than a dozen people had called his consumer protection unit to report charges of $400 or more, compared with the typical towing rate of $100 to $150.

Preparing for next disaster

Gov. Pat McCrory offered a checklist at a news conference Friday of what the state needs to do better in the next natural disaster:

McCrory also called for a review and clarification of when high schools and colleges allow sports events to be held during dangerous weather. The governor noted that a bus of basketball players from South Carolina was stuck in Surry County for an extended period on Thursday.

“I would ask the question to the conferences, what the heck were you doing on a bus last night?” McCrory said. “ I think we need to review that policy and decision-making.”

9 deaths statewide

A Charlotte man, Thomas Lyall, died when his Jeep Wrangler skidded on ice early Friday morning on Eastway Drive and slammed into a power pole. A Rutherford County man was killed about 9:30 a.m. Friday when his pickup truck was struck from behind by a tractor-trailer on Interstate 85 near Belmont. Police say the pick-up driver had slowed near a patch of ice at an I-85 exit.

And in Burke County, authorities said a Valdese woman in her late 40s died Wednesday night after shoveling snow, and a Morganton man in his 70s died after operating a snow blower.

The N.C. Highway Patrol reported two men were killed Thursday evening while trying to help a stranded trucker.

The truck driver went off Interstate 40 near Garner during a heavy snowstorm. The victims – a 39-year-old man from Winston-Salem and a 34-year-old from Hope Mills – were struck and killed by a driver who fled the scene, troopers say. Marshall Doran, 21, of Kure Beach, was arrested a short time later and charged with two counts of second-degree murder and DWI, among other offenses, troopers said. Overall, nine deaths have been attributed to the storm statewide.

In northwest Charlotte, a trucker on I-485 was seriously injured about 4 a.m. Friday when a large chunk of ice fell off the Mount Holly Road overpass and smashed his windshield, the N.C. Highway Patrol said. The (Raleigh) News & Observer contributed.

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