LUMBERTON — The freezing rain and snow forecast to hit Robeson County Wednesday and overnight had yet to start falling when governments and businesses began to adjust their schedules.
But as Wednesday afternoon disappeared, the odds of a snowy event were going up.
The National Weather Service in Wilmington was calling for a 30 percent chance of snow with an accumulation of about 1 inch for Wednesday afternoon. The precipitation chances increased to 80 percent Wednesday evening into today with up to 3 inches of the white stuff.
County residents east of Interstate 95 could expect to wake up to as much as 3 inches of snow on the ground, Dave Loewenthal, a Weather Service meteorologist, said Wednesday. And the snow could stick around through the end of the week as the ground is frozen from recent temperatures in the 30s during the day and teens at night.
“You’ll start to see a mixture of ice pellets and freezing rain this afternoon that will turn into snow over time,” Dave Loewenthal, a National Weather Service meteorologist, said Wednesday.
Whatever falls will be apparent through the weekend, as daily highs will continue in the mid-30s and nighttime temps get down into the teens.
The forecast prompted local governments and schools to change their schedules for Wednesday and today.
The Public Schools of Robeson County sent students home at 12:30 p.m. Wednesday. No information about today’s schedule was available by press time Wednesday. The Robesonian published this edition of the newspaper about eight hours early to keep its employees, including those who deliver the paper, off of dangerous roads.
All Robeson County offices, including the Sheriff’s Office, closed at 3:15 p.m. Wednesday and will open at 10:30 a.m. today, County Manager Ricky Harris said.
Robeson County residents in need of home-heating assistance or help getting to an emergency shelter in order to escape the expected frigid temperatures can call 910-671-3152. County residents are urged to sign up for Code Red https://public.coderedweb.com/cne/en-US/A394E5C99164 and download the NC Ready App https://readync.org/EN/DOWNLOADAPP.html
The city of Lumberton offices closed at 3:30 p.m. Wednesday, City Manager Wayne Horne said. A decision about Thursday’s hours was not announced by press time Wednesday.
The Lumberton Housing Authority closed at 3:30 p.m. Wednesday, said Adrian E Lowery, interim executive director. Today’s schedule was not announced by press time Wednesday.
Robeson Community College closed for faculty and staff at 3:30 p.m. Wednesday, said Dennis Watts, Public Information officer. All evening classes for Wednesday were cancelled.
“Decisions regarding the operating schedule for Thursday will be determined later today,” Watts said Wednesday. “For the latest information regarding the institution’s operating schedule, please check the college’s website and Facebook page.”
All Southeastern Health fitness centers, including CrossFit Q.F.E., closed at 5 p.m. Wednesday and will reopen at 7 a.m. today, according to information from Southeastern Health. Southeastern Regional Medical Center’s gift shop closed at 6 p.m. Wednesday and will reopen at 9:30 a.m. today.
Southeastern Health Mall Clinic, Southeastern Urgent Care Pembroke, The Clinic at Lumberton Drug, and The Clinic at Walmart will open at 9 a.m. today.
Southeastern Health primary care clinics and specialty clinics, Gibson Cancer Center, Southeastern Psychiatry Clinic, Southeastern Radiology Associates, Southeastern Wound Healing Center, Southeastern Cardiology and Cardiovascular Clinic and rehab centers will open at 10 a.m. today.
Southeastern Health officials request that the general public limit visits to SRMC during inclement weather for their general safety.
Sanderson Farms cancelled the Wednesday second shift at its processing plant in St. Pauls.
Electric utility companies were keeping an eye on the weather and getting ready.
A higher than normal power demand is anticipated because customers will be trying to keep warm, said Walter White, vice president and director of Marketing at Lumbee River Electric Membership Corporation.. 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.
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.
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.
County residents also were getting ready Wednesday for the predicted wintry weather. Some of them were in the stores stocking up on storm supplies
The aisles at Fresh Foods IGA on Roberts Avenue in Lumberton were bustling Wednesday with customers looking to secure milk, bread, eggs, meats and canned food before the snow arrived. But the store has been busy all week, owner Jeet Darshakkumar said.
“We did see some coming in buying bread and stuff, but we’ve seen way more people today,” Darshakkumar said.
The store placed an extra order of the most popular winter storm items to meet demand, but still ran out of bread earlier this week, and a new shipment had to be brought in.
The state Highway Patrol in Robeson County had no special plans to react to the winter weather forecast for the region as of early Wednesday afternoon. The county station will deploy a full staff Wednesday and today, Sgt. R.D. Wright said. Some troopers who were to have a day off Thursday may be called in, if necessary.
“Staffing will be adjusted as conditions warrant,” Wright said.
State Department of Transportation crews have been hard at work making sure Robeson County’s highways are safe for motorists, said Brice Bell, county maintenance engineer for the department.
Crews begin spraying roadways with salt brine, which slows the process of ice sticking to roadways, about 1 p.m. Tuesday and worked until 7 p.m., he said. The spraying equipment had to be thawed first.
The crews were expected to have all 250 scheduled miles of highways and interstate sprayed by 1:30 p.m. Wednesday.
“We were pretty busy,” Bell said.
The crews will switch over to ice removal once rain or snow begins to fall, he said. A total of 60 DOT personnel will be involved in the spraying and ice removal operations.
State government also was bracing Wednesday for the storm.
Gov. Roy Cooper says state officials are treating the quick-moving storm in eastern North Carolina seriously because of its expected combination of freezing rain, snow and high winds, followed by continued frigid temperatures.
Cooper said Wednesday at a pre-storm news conference that he’s worried about people who could lose power during the storm and their ability to heat their homes. Since temperatures are expected to remain at or below freezing for the next several days, Cooper says it may be more difficult for first responders and transportation crews to work.
Cooper says he’ll issue an emergency declaration in storm-affected areas. Eight hundred DOT employees already are involved in anti-icing operations on state roads. Still, the governor urged people in affected areas to stay off roads Wednesday night and today because they could become dangerous.
Managing Editor T.C. Hunter and The Associated Press contributed to this report.