LUMBERTON — Robeson County residents’ long wait for a once-in-a-decade snow event was continuing this afternoon but should be over soon if forecasters are correct.
Commerce was slowing this afternoon as Robesonians bundled up and hunkered down as Winter Storm Leon, packing enough punch to drop as many as 8 inches of snow this afternoon and into Wednesday morning, continued its march from the south. The wet stuff, which is likely to start as sleet, was expected to begin mid-afternoon.
The National Weather Service’s winter storm warning remained in effect as temperatures hovered around freezing and winds reached as high as 32 mph. Gov. Pat McCrory on Tuesday afternoon declared a state of emergency in anticipation of the storm.
According to Reid Hawkins, a science officer with the National Weather Service, Robeson County isn’t likely to see much freezing rain, which can take down tree limbs and power lines, but about 1 to 3 inches of sleet could accumulate once the storm arrives around 3 p.m.
“The storm could hit a little later than we had thought,” Hawkins said. “The heavier stuff will come this evening.”
At noon Tuesday, light flurries had been reported in Marion County, in western North Carolina, while the storm’s heaviest precipitation was approaching western South Carolina, where a state of emergency has also been declared.
Overnight, forecasters expect about 3 to 5 inches of snow and sleet to accumulate, with mostly snow falling between 4 and 10 a.m. Wednesday.
The threat has prompted closings, cancellations, stern travel warnings and concern about power outages in a county that rarely experiences such winter weather and is ill-equipped to deal with it.
Businesses throughout the county are expected to close or adjust their hours of operation based on the severity of the storm.
Biggs Park Mall manager Chelsea Biggs said has an eye on the sky.
“We’ll close down if it gets too dangerous for employees to drive to the mall,” Biggs said, noting that customers have been scarce today.
Though arrangements have been made to ensure the safety of customers and employees — salting the parking lot and placing deterrent poles near parking islands — Biggs does not anticipate that many shoppers will visit the mall during the next few days.
“Snow is very rare around here, so people will probably want to go out and play in it,” she said. “But hopefully, we’ll be open if someone needs to buy a coat.”
The Public Schools of Robeson County announced Monday afternoon there would be no school Tuesday or today. The University of North Carolina at Pembroke closed at 12:30 p.m. Tuesday and did not make an announcement about today’s classes until after The Robesonian went to press. Robeson Community College was closed Tuesday and classes are canceled today. Robeson County offices and Lumberton, Fairmont and Red Springs town offices were all closed Tuesday and will be again today.
“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,” Sgt. Daniel Hilburn with the state Highway Patrol said, emphasizing that people should reduce their speed tonight and Wednesday morning because of the possibility of black ice, especially on bridges.
Hilburn said the Department of Transportation has sent personnel from Raleigh to patrol I-95 and other major corridors looking for stranded motorists. Major highways have been brined in anticipation of the storm.
Hawkins said residents should 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.
Law enforcement officials strong recommend that people stay off the roads, but if they must drive,the American Automobile Association offers the following tips
— Make sure that all tires on a vehicle are properly inflated and avoid mixing radial tires with other tire types.
— When accelerating, apply the gas slowly to reestablish traction and to avoid skids. When decelerating, be mindful that it takes longer to slow down on icy roads
— If possible, avoid stopping on snowy roads. The amount of inertia needed to resume travel from a complete stop is very different from the amount needed to move while the tires are still rolling. At traffic lights, try to decelerate enough to creep slowly until the light changes.
— The standard following distance of three to four seconds should be increased to eight to 10 seconds on snowy roads.
— Do not apply extra gas when traveling up snow-covered hills. If possible, establish some momentum on a flat roadway before attempting to drive uphill. Conversely, avoid stopping when traveling up hills on icy roads.
— Avoid using the cruise control and parking brake.
According to Hawkins, freezing rain is the mostly likely culprit for power outages, but that seemed unlikely on Tuesday.
Walter White, director of Marketing and Economic Development said Lumbee River Electric Membership Corporation 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 by weather or out-of-control cars.
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.
Although skies will start clearing up tonight, Hawkins said residents should remain on the lookout for black ice through Thursday. Temperatures on Thursday could climb to the mid-30s, melting some snow and refreezing it when temperatures plummet into the teens on Thursday night.
Central North Carolina is expecting up to 5 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.
Such a weather event is rare for Robeson County. In January 2011, parts of Robeson County saw up to 7 inches of snow. According to the National Weather Service, Lumberton saw about 10 inches of snow during a storm in March 1982, the most recent of the top 10 heaviest snowfalls ever in Robeson County.