LUMBERTON — Whether or not there was to be snow on the ground and ice on the roadways when Robeson County residents awaken Friday morning was unclear Thursday afternoon, but local leaders weren’t taking any chances.
The predictions for the amount of snow the blast of arctic air that struck the county in the overnight hours ranged from less than 1 inch to as much as 3 inches. Either way, the men and women of the N.C. Department of Transportation’s Robeson County maintenance yard were getting ready Thursday for whatever happens.
Robeson County Maintenance Engineer Brice Bell said all the maintenance yard’s salt spreaders and snowplows were hooked up to 20 dump trucks and were ready to be deployed if needed. Thirty-eight employees were on standby.
The plan was to have the day crew work until 8 p.m. Thursday and have the night crew come in at 8 p.m., he said.
“We’re ready,” Bell said.
Bell and his crew were waiting for National Weather Service winter storm updates. The information contained in those updates would dictate the crew’s actions.
“Hopefully, it won’t be necessary,” Bell said of the preparations.
Lumberton Electric Utilities and Lumbee River Electric Membership Corporation also were making plans for a worst-case weather event.
Lumberton Electric Utilities workers were preparing for the storm by putting gasoline in their vehicles and loading them with materials to repair broken power lines, Deputy Director Greg Prevatte said.
“We typically do that in most storms,” Prevatte said. “What we do is put everybody on standby.”
About 28 workers will be prepared to respond to customers who might experience outages in the storm, he said.
“Hopefully, it’s just going to be snow,” he said. “We can get by with snow.”
But ice poses a problem, he said. Accumulations of ice can weigh down power lines and cause them to break.
“I don’t anticipate having long-term outages,” he said.
Walter White, LREMC vice president of Corporate Services, said the corporation that serves a little more than 18,000 customers in Robeson County was also taking precautions ahead of the snow. Eighty utility workers are standing by, but the corporation doesn’t anticipate any problems.
“It’s one of those things where you plan for the worst and hope for the best,” White said.
In the meantime school and government leaders were planning ahead to avoid putting students and staff members on highways and byways that might be coated with ice and snow.
The University of North Carolina at Pembroke canceled all classes and campus activities starting at 5 p.m. Thursday through 10 a.m. Friday. University administrators announced that operations would be limited during the same time frame.
“We are aware that conditions may vary greatly throughout our service region,” a UNCP advisory read in part. “Students, faculty and staff are encouraged to continue reviewing local weather and road conditions to make well-informed choices about travel to ensure your own personal safety.”
The Public Schools of Robeson County dismissed students and staff two hours early Thursday and delayed the opening of schools for two hours on Friday. According to a statement issued Wednesday evening, all after-school activities were canceled, including Primetime, on Thursday, and the central office was to close at 2 p.m.
The statement read in part, “District leaders will continue to monitor the forecast and storm-related conditions. Updates will be provided as quickly as possible if further schedule changes are necessary for Friday. We appreciate your continued cooperation and patience.”
Robeson Community College shut down at 5 p.m. on Thursday and canceled all evening classes. College leaders also announced the campus would operate on a two-hour delay on Friday.
City of Lumberton offices were scheduled to operate on a one-hour delay on Friday. Offices were tentatively scheduled to open at 9 a.m. The county offices remained on schedule.
Southeastern Health altered the schedules for some of its operations because of the winter weather threat.
All fitness centers, walk-in/Urgent Care centers, and the Southeastern Regional Medical Center Gift Shop closed at 7 p.m. on Thursday. All Southeastern Health affiliates and services were to operate on a normal schedule on Friday except for SRMC Valet Services, which was to open at 7 a.m., and all fitness centers, which were to open at 8 a.m.
The weather threat also affected early voting for the March 3 primary election.
The Robeson County Board of Elections closed its main office and the five satellite sites being used for One-Stop voting at 5:30 p.m. Thursday, and delayed reopening the office and polling sites until 10 a.m. Friday.
The weather’s touch definitely was felt at the Elections Board office on Thursday, Director Tina Bledsoe said.
“It’s very slow,” she said.
The wintry weather was making itself felt throughout the region late Thursday afternoon, said Tim Armstrong, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service office in Wilmington. Starting just before 5 p.m. the office was getting reports of sleet mixing with rain from Whiteville and from Bennettsville and Little Rock in South Carolina.
“Any second now you could get some sleet mixing with the rain,” Armstrong said.
Temperatures just below freezing were expected late Thursday evening into Friday morning, he said. But the road surfaces are warm, which should prevent any accumulation of wintry precipitation. The exception will be on bridges and overpasses where the cold air circulates beneath the roadway and brings the surface temperature to freezing or below freezing.
“So you need to be careful there,” Armstrong said.
The wintry weather should be coming to an end at just about sunrise Friday, he said. The rising daytime temperature should melt away any accumulation of snow and ice quickly. And the air will be dry, so any moisture on the roadways should be evaporated before the return of below-freezing temperatures late Friday evening and into Saturday morning.
The National Weather Service issued a Winter Weather Advisory for Southeastern North Carolina, effective until 10 a.m. Friday, that warned of rain mixing with sleet Thursday evening before changing to all snow. Total snow accumulations of 1 to 2 inches were expected in Robeson, Bladen and Pender counties. Accumulations of up to an inch were expected in Columbus, Brunswick and New Hanover counties.
Motorists were urged to slow down and use caution Friday morning because the precipitation could create slippery road conditions, especially on bridges and overpasses.
Voters and campaign workers endure the rain and plunging temperature Thursday afternoon at the Robeson County Board of Elections Office in Lumberton. The worsening weather prompted the Elections Office close its main office and five satellite sites being used for One-Stop voting at 5:30 p.m. Thursday and to delay reopening until 10 a.m. Friday.
Chris Phillips, left, and James Morris Lowery Jr. get some bread Thursday at Fresh Foods IGA on Roberts Avenue in Lumberton. Both men just beat the 5 p.m. rush of people preparing for the chance of wintry weather expected Thursday evening and into Friday morning.