UPDATE: DOT salting roads ahead of snow

Amanda Thames AmandaThames

Eastern North Carolina could see almost six inches of snow between Wednesday night and Thursday morning.

The area was upgraded to a Winter Storm Warning mid-afternoon Tuesday when the forecast shifted slightly.

Jim Merrell, lead forecaster and meteorologist with the National Weather Service out of Morehead City, said “the forecast confidence has increased” enough that they believe most of ENC will be pretty hazardous during the storm, which led to the upgraded warning.

The high for Wednesday is forecasted for 32 or below freezing throughout ENC as the storm gets started, Merrell said.

A mixture of sleet, freezing rain and snow will begin as early as noon Wednesday, Merrell said, with heavier amounts between late afternoon Wednesday to early Thursday morning. The snow should start tapering off between 4 and 7 a.m. Thursday.

“With winter storms like this, we’ll definitely get some range,” Merrell said, adding that it looks like most of ENC will see three-to-five inches of snow.

Some are still skeptical of the prediction, though.

“We never seem to get it,” said Kendra Edwards.

Holding two loaves of bread and a package of hamburger buns, Edwards, of Jacksonville, said she was not shopping at Piggly Wiggly Tuesday afternoon in preparation for the snow storm. Instead, she planned to make sloppy joes for dinner.

“It would be nice (to get snow),” Edwards said, but she’s not banking on it.

Edwards, who grew up in the area, said meteorologists always claim a big storm is coming and it never pans out that way, and she wasn’t going to waste money stocking up for what will likely amount to a lot of nothing.

Kendrick Stanton felt about the same. He remembers snowball fights with friends before school in Syracuse, New York growing up, remembers snow packed four-to-six feet high and sledding down the hills.

He also remembers, after moving to North Carolina, school being cancelled for two days for an inch of snow.

“I laugh,” Stanton said, referencing towns shutting down for a bit of white fluff that wouldn’t have been enough to play in up north. But, Stanton added, he agrees that it’s much safer for people not used to that kind of weather to close down the schools and ensure people stay safe.

Keeping people safe is what Jacksonville Public Safety had in mind when they sent out a press release Tuesday morning with tips for people preparing for the storms. Their tips including ensuring your car was ready with clean headlights and windshield wipers in good, working order as well as making sure homes were ready with plenty of flashlights, battery-operated radios, fully-charged cell phones and non-perishable foods in the event of a power outage.

The Jacksonville Police Department urged people not to leave their homes unless absolutely necessary and asked that you leave plenty of time to get to wherever they’re going. Use main roads, reduce speed and double the normal distance between your car and the next.

“Posted speed limits are designed for normal driving conditions,” JPD Lt. Sean Magill is quoted as saying in the press release. “In icy road conditions, reducing your speed is the single most important safety step you can take.”

In addition, Onslow Water and Sewer Authority sent out a press release Tuesday stating they’d been flooded with calls from people stating they had no water when in fact, their pipes were frozen.

ONWASA recommended people leave a faucet or two inside their homes dripping, open the cabinet doors under sinks and remove, drain and store outdoor water hoses to prevent pipes from freezing, especially in light of the coming cold storm.

“Taking proactive action at this time is absolutely necessary for the protection of property in this area,” according to the ONWASA press release.

Officials were preparing all over ENC Tuesday and trucks loaded with road salt headed out to prepare Kinston roadways, specifically bridges and hills, as well as treat the walking areas around the hospital, ambulance locations, and city properties, said City of Kinston Director of Public Services Rhonda Barwick.

Barwick encouraged businesses to salt the walkways in their areas, too, to prevent falls from ice patches.

City workers were already out and about working Tuesday morning, fixing water main breaks because of fast-freezing temperatures, Barwick said, and city workers were topping of generators at some of their facilities as well.

Craven County Emergemcy Services were closely monitoring the forecast Tuesday evening, said Assistant Director Ira Whitford. Usually during snow storms, Whitford said, they send more people out when a call comes in, and usually those calls are for car crashes or medical needs.

Overall, Whitford said Craven Emergency Services just wants people to practice safety on the road and at home, and not be on the roads unless they have to be once it starts.

"The sooner everybody gets in in these events, the better everything is," Whitford said.

Even at the state level people were preparing for the "just in case" scenarios. A press release from N.C. Governor Roy Cooper said snowfall amounts for the state are hard to predict and just a small change in a storm’s track can make a big difference.

Because of this, the state is watching the storm closely and preparing to offer assistance with storm-related needs if it becomes necessary, according to the press release. Extreme cold temperatures like these can be life-threatening if power and heat are lost, and everyone is encouraged to dress warmly and keep an alternative heating source on hand just in case.

The state also urged people to have at least a three-day supply of non-perishable food at home.

Stanton, who is the assistant manager of the Piggly Wiggly on Henderson Drive in Jacksonville, was expecting the rush to hit the store between 5 and 7 p.m. Tuesday and said most often people grab milk, bread, canned goods that can be eaten as-is and bottled water. Some people grab deli meat and sliced cheese to make sandwiches while others use the bread as an addition to their pork and beans or ravioli, he added.

Another item that people like to add to their cold-weather carts is alcohol. Stanton said “people like to sit in” and “kick back, watch the weather,” with a glass of wine or a beer, and these two items usually fly a little faster off the shelves around a predicted snow storm.

And while you’re out stocking up for your family don’t forget the furry members. Onslow County Animal Services Director Howard Martin said blankets, coats and sweaters soak up snowmelt and when it freezes over can lead to hypothermia, frostbite and death, according to a press release.

If you can’t bring pets inside – which is the best option – Martin said to pick up dry straw for an outside draft-free shelter and ensure they have access to non-frozen water and fresh food.

When animals venture outside keep an eye out for frostbitten and painful paws due to the cold and salting used on roadways, and before you travel anywhere check to make sure there isn’t an unexpected guest inside the wheel well or under the hood.

Whatever your cold-weather plans, enjoy them while you can – Merrell said the snow will likely stop completely by 7 a.m. Thursday and since Thursday is forecasted to be pretty sunny, a good amount of the accumulation is sure to melt.

But that doesn’t mean it’ll be safe. Merrell said Thursday night is expected to be in the mid-teens across ENC and any leftover snow will refreeze, making Friday morning travel dangerous, too – especially in rural areas where salt trucks haven’t traveled.

The next major update from the NWS is scheduled for 3-to-4 a.m. Wednesday.

Reporter Amanda Thames can be reached at 910-219-8467 or [email protected]

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