LUMBERTON — This time, it’s for real.
After weather forecasters teased Robesonians with the possibility of snow a couple of times this winter, there is no chance of no snow and perhaps some other more unwelcome stuff beginning today and ending Wednesday.
For now, Robeson County residents are trying to stay warm and waiting under gray skies for Winter Storm Leon to arrive.
The National Weather Service in Wilmington issued a winter storm warning that took effect at 5 a.m., but at 9 a.m. Robeson County was still dry. Forecasters are expecting 6 to 8 inches of snow to fall in most of Robeson County starting this afternoon, with 4 to 6 inches falling in the southern part of the county. Gov. Pat McCrory has declared a state of emergency.
According to meteorologist Sandy Lacourte, while much of the state may see predominantly ice, Robeson County is going to get a fluffy white blanket.
“With the way the system is setting up … we’re feeling pretty confident about it,” she said. National Weather Service Science Officer Reid Hawkins said there’s a chance the storm could leave some residents in the dark with limited power outages.
The Public Schools of Robeson County announced Monday afternoon there would be no school today or Wednesday. The University of North Carolina at Pembroke was operating normally this morning, but closing at 12:30 p.m. Robeson Community College is closed today.
Temperatures today aren’t likely to climb above a chilly 31 degrees.
“There could be a bit of ice in the southern parts of the county but that would be early on and then it will transition to sleet then snow,” Hawkins said.
Tonight, the chance of precipitation will jump to 100 percent, producing the heaviest snow and sleet of the storm. Up to 4 inches of snow could fall overnight.
Temperatures as low as 18 degrees and winds around 16 mph could make conditions treacherous on the roads overnight and into the morning.
“Do not get out on the road unless you absolutely have to,” Sgt . Daniel Hilburn with the state Highway Patrol said. “Get out, get your provisions and get back to the house. Take advantage of the delay in the storm and go to the store and pick up what you might need.”
Hilburn said it’s especially important that drivers be careful on bridges tonight and Wednesday morning.
“The actual black asphalt could be fine until you get to a bridge where the wind is blowing on top and underneath and it might be frozen,” he said. Hilburn said anyone who must drive should reduce their speed in case of black ice.
According to spokesperson Hollie Allen, the state Department of Transportation has brined Interstate 95 and other major highways.
Hilburn said the Department of Transportation has sent personnel from Raleigh to patrol I-95 and other major corridors looking for stranded motorists.
Lacourte also suggested residents put together safety kits for their cars and homes, including flashlights, extra batteries, water, food, prescriptions special items for infants, the elderly and the disabled, important documents, blankets and first-aid items.
According to Hawkins, freezing rain is the mostly likely culprit for power outages, but the chance of that happening in Robeson County was diminishing this morning.
Walter White, director of Marketing and Economic Development said Lumbee River Electric Membership Corporation is getting ready for the storm, regardless of what it brings.
“Anytime we can avoid a scenario with freezing rain, that’s good for us. We’d much rather deal with snow,” he said.
White said Lumbee River Electric is outfitting its utility trucks with weather-resistant equipment, sharpening the blades of its chainsaws and stocking up on materials needed in the event of a power pole being knocked down.
“Typically, what we run into with snow is people sliding off the roads and hitting our poles,” White said.
White also stressed that people should steer clear of downed power lines.
“The first thing they need to do is call us and let us check it out,” White said.
The high chance of snow continues through to Wednesday morning, and up to half an inch of snow could fall before 10 a.m. that day. Skies are expected to be clearer on Wednesday night, but the temperatures will remain well below freezing so there won’t be much melting.
Thursday will bring temperatures in the mid-30s, melting the snowfall slowly. According to Reid, this could pose a danger Thursday night when the temperatures plummet again.
“We’ll get down to the teens again so we’ll have to look out for black ice.”
Robeson County offices and the landfill are closed today and Wednesday.
Fairmont will close its town hall at 12:30 p.m. today and likely into Wednesday. Red Springs town offices will close today and Wednesday and operate on a two-hour delay Thursday. Lumberton city offices will be closed today and Wednesday. Emergency Services and Public Works will continue to be on standby in those towns.
All of Southeastern Regional Medical Center’s physician practice clinics except The Clinic at Walmart, Southeastern Urgent Care Lumberton and Southeastern Urgent Care Pembroke will be closing today at 1 p.m along with Lumberton Radiological Associates and all Southeastern Lifestyle rehabilitation centers. On Wednesday, Gibson Cancer Center, all Southeastern Lifestyle fitness centers, Southeastern Lifestyle Day Spa and Cardiac Rehabilitation will be closed.
South Carolina, Georgia, southern Alabama, southern Louisiana, southern Mississippi and even Texas have “a stretch of winter storm warnings and watches,” Lacourte said.
Central North Carolina is expecting up to five inches of snow and as much as a foot could fall around Elizabeth City. The northern Outer banks could see 10 inches. Only 1 to 3 inches of snow is likely to fall in the western part of the state.