LUMBERTON — Robeson County residents could see 1 to 2 inches of snow or none at all today, depending on where they live.
“Robeson County is really going to be on the cusp of a couple inches of snow or no snow at all,” Mark Bacon, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Wilmington, said Tuesday. “I could almost see the east getting a couple inches of snow and the northwest corner getting none at all.”
Robeson County is under a winter storm watch from 11 a.m. today until 6 a.m. Thursday. The warning means significant amounts of snow, sleet and ice are expected.
There is a 40 percent chance of snow this morning and into the evening, Bacon said. The temperature is expected to range from 35 degrees in the daytime to 21 after the sun goes down.
If it does snow, the cold weather of the past several days has cooled the ground enough to allow the snow to stick, Bacon said. And the snow could be on the ground for the rest of the week.
“We don’t even have the high getting above 40 until Sunday, and the normal high is 56 degrees,” Bacon said.
Counties farther east are expected to receive more wintry weather over the next several days, he said. Whiteville could receive 3 to 4 inches of snow.
With the threat of snow looming and frigid weather dug in, local residents are scrambling. The forecast through Saturday is for the high temperatures not getting out of the 30s during the day, and then plunging into the mid-teens overnight.
The cold delayed the start of the day for the Public Schools of Robeson County by two hours on Tuesday, but classes will begin on time today. However, school officials, in anticipation of snow, will be letting students out of school early today.
Ricky Ward, president of Southern Heating and Air Conditioning, said he’s seen an increase in the number of people calling to have their heating and air systems serviced.
“Most people are just wanting to make sure theirs is OK,” Ward said. “But there’s also a lot of breakdowns.”
Ward said the business is receiving more than 200 calls a day.
As of Tuesday afternoon, Lowes Foods in Lumberton hadn’t seen a rush of consumers worried about the weather — yet. The store was still well stocked with items such as bread, milk and water that people typically buy when snow is coming.
“I haven’t seen any rushes yet,” Manager Rocky Williamson said Tuesday afternoon. “People don’t tend to know until they get off work.”
Based on past experiences, he expected any rush to take place late Tuesday evening or this morning.
The roads could potentially be hazardous as precipitation ices up overnight.
Crews were out Tuesday spraying Interstate 95 and primary roadways in Robeson County with salt brine, according to Brice Bell, county maintenance engineer for the N.C. Department of Transportation. Brine slows the freezing, giving crews more time to clear away any ice that may accumulate.
The crews had only eight hours to do a job that takes 12 to 15 hours to complete, he said.
“Time and temperature are not on our side,” Bell said.
The latest road conditions can be obtained by calling 511.
Electric utility companies were keeping an eye on the weather and getting ready.
“We don’t anticipate any problems, but we’re making sure our equipment is ready to handle the load,” said Walter White, vice president and director of Marketing at Lumbee River Electric Membership Corporation.
A higher than normal power demand is anticipated because customers will be trying to keep warm, White said. The LREMC system is built to withstand the load, but customers can reduce the strain by setting their thermostats to 68 degrees. Lowering the thermostat also will reduce customers’ bills.
Area residents also can help by slowing down and being careful when they see an LREMC crew working on the side of the road, he said. Doing so helps reduce the chances of an accident.
“Don’t be out on the roads unless you have to,” he said.
LREMC customers who experience an outage should call 800-683-5571.
Duke Energy is monitoring the weather conditions, said Tammie McGee, a company spokesperson.
“Duke Energy has a detailed storm response plan. We are prepared to respond when severe weather situations occur,” McGee said.
Duke personnel are checking equipment, supplies and inventories to ensure there are adequate materials to make repairs and restore power outages, she said.
“Storms are unpredictable,” McGee said. “Until we are confident in the storm’s path and its impact to our customers, we will not release any Duke Energy employees or contractors to assist with restoration efforts outside of our service areas.”
Customers are encouraged to prepare by checking their supply of flashlights, batteries, bottled water, non-perishable foods, medicines, etc., McGee said. They also should ensure a portable, battery operated radio, TV or NOAA radio is on hand. Families who have special medical needs or elderly members should closely monitor weather forecasts and make plans for potential alternate arrangements should an extended outage occur.
“Stay away from power lines that have fallen or are sagging,” she said. “Consider all lines energized as well as trees or limbs in contact with lines. Please report downed power lines to Duke Energy and your local police department.”
Customers who experience an outage during the storm should call the automated outage-reporting systems for their respective utility. Duke Energy Carolinas customers can call 1-800-769-3766. Progress Energy Carolinas customers can call 1-800-419-6356.
Customers may also report an outage, view current outages and receive Estimated Times of Restoration online at www.duke-energy.com/storms.
“ElectriCities continues to monitor the forecast and is ready to activate the Emergency Assistance Program, if needed,” said Michelle Vaught, vice president, Corporate Communications. “We are in constant contact with other N.C. Public Power utilities in order to provide quick assistance in the event that our member utilities request aid.”
ElectriCities does not anticipate problems delivering power to customers in Robeson County if it should snow, she said.
At the Lumberton Christian Care Center in the downtown area, the shelter had six vacant beds out of 20 on Tuesday afternoon. The center has relaxed rules for homeless people seeking shelter, not requiring them to go through clearance at the Lumberton Police Department. That is communicated by white towels or “flags” being attached to poles outside the center.
“When the white flag goes up, all of that is out the door,” said Eddie Davis, manager of the care center. “We just want to keep people safe from out of the cold.”
Staff writers T.C. Hunter and Annick Joseph contributed to this report.