LUMBERTON — Robeson County this afternoon was getting pelted with big powdery snow flakes, turning it into a winter wonderland — and residents were hoping that the white out wouldn’t become a black out.
At 3 p.m. as The Robesonian was preparing to publish today’s edition with an early deadline, snow was beginning to accumulate, and much more was in the forecast of what is being predicted as a three-day event. Snow, sleet and some freezing rain are expected to keep falling through Thursday and could pile up to as much as 5 inches in the northwest part of Robeson.
With temperatures expected to hover around freezing overnight and into Wednesday morning, forecasters are warning of “severe icing” —and the possibility of power outages from downed trees for falling branches.
“We’ve seen the heaviest snows moving across Robeson, Bladen and Pender counties,” said Carl Morgan, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Wilmington. Parts of Robeson County by mid-afternoon Tuesday had seen up to 2.5 inches of snow and Gov. Pat McCrory had declared a state of emergency.
The snow put the county into a deep freeze, emptying roads, and shutting down commerce, local governments and schools.
Students with the Public Schools of Robeson County will get to enjoy the fluff again today, their second snow day in a row and sixth since Jan. 28. Wednesday classes at Robeson Community College and The University of North Carolina at Pembroke are cancelled. Some government offices are also closed and many business, including Biggs Park Mall, which will close at 6 p.m., shut their doors early.
Morgan said, so far, the storm is on track with forecasts.
“These heavy bands are pretty much impossible to forecast exactly where they’re going to fall … but there have been no surprises,” Morgan said.
The roads were becoming increasingly hazardous.
By 1:30 on Tuesday afternoon, the state Highway Patrol had responded to about 30 accidents — none serious — in the county, according the Sgt. Daniel Hilburn.
“The majority of them were people just driving too fast for the conditions,” he said. “Once you get up over about 25, 30 miles per hour, if you start sliding … there’s a lot better chance for you to slide over and hit a ditch or hit somebody.”
Tonight, flurries are likely to be replaced by sleet and freezing rain. About a quarter inch of ice could accumulate, producing the most dangerous driving conditions of the three-day event.
“It doesn’t matter if you have a big four-wheel drive truck, ice is ice,” Hilburn said.
The American Automobile Association offers the following tips for driving in severe winter weather:
— Accelerate, decelerate and turn slowly. Everything takes longer in icy conditions, so be sure to leave enough space between you and the vehicle in front of you.
— Don’t stop if you can avoid it. There’s a big difference in the amount of inertia it takes to start moving from a full stop vs. how much it takes to get moving while still rolling.
— Don’t power up hills. Applying extra gas on icy roads just starts your wheels spinning. Avoid stopping while going up a hill.
— Don’t use cruise control, you may need to quickly reduce your speed by lifting off the accelerator.
— Lightly take your foot off the brake or gas pedal to get out of a skid and try to regain traction.
— Use extra caution on bridges and overpasses. They freeze because they are exposed to air on all of their surfaces.
— Fill up on windshield washer fluid. Opt for fluid with a low freezing point to help keep ice and snow from sticking to your windshield.
On Wednesday, light snow and sleet are expected to fall until about 1 p.m. After that, more freezing rain — the most likely culprit behind power outages — may take over.
Tuesday afternoon, no outages had been reported.
“Everything is ready we’re just waiting now hoping that we don’t have any issues,” said Walter White, director of Marketing and Economic Development at Lumbee River Electric Membership Corporation. ” … We always worry until we get through it but we’re prepared.”
White said it’s important that residents stay away from downed power lines, and off roads if possible — both for their safety and to expedite any repairs.
“Our crews, their first and foremost responsibility is the safety of the public and their own safety,” he said ” … The more traffic there is on the roads, the slower things go for us.”
White said residents should assume any downed lines are live and report them immediately.
Rain and sleet will continue through Wednesday night, before flurries return Thursday morning. Temperatures Thursday aren’t likely to climb past 40 degrees.
By Thursday night, skies should be clear, although below-freezing temperatures won’t provide much respite for chilly residents or icy roads. This weekend, the Big Thaw should begin with sunny skies and temperatures in the low-50s on Friday and Saturday.
Tuesday’s snow comes exactly two weeks after Winter Storm Leon, which was mostly a snow event that similarly paralyzed Robeson County, which can go years without seeing significant rainfall.