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Storm dumps up to 18 inches of snow, knocks out power for 11,903

The winter storm that brought up to 18 inches of snow to the area was changing to freezing rain with the potential for a new round of snow and 1-2 more inches Sunday night. The snowstorm, which began Saturday afternoon and continued through Sunday morning, knocked out power for one in six Duke Energy customers in Henderson County.

The big pre-Christmas storm caused power outages for 11,903 customers in the county, including 1,308 in Valley Hill, 2,936 in Hendersonville, 700 in Laurel Park, 1,145 in Mills River, 2,520 in the Fletcher and Hoopers Creek area. Statewide, 198,465 Duke customers were without power.

In hard hit Polk County, around 500 downed trees littered the shoulder of U.S. 74, the main thoroughfare through the county, and 5,411 out of 8,136 customers — two-thirds of the total — were without power.

Weather observers reported 18.2 inches in Saluda, around 1 foot in Transylvania County, 16.9 inches in Flat Rock and 10 inches in Asheville, said Lauren Carroll, a meteorologist with the weather service. Snow changed to freezing rain on Sunday morning and conditions were ripe for freezing drizzle thoughout the day, she said.

The forecast called for rain or freezing rain before 11 p.m. Sunday, then snow likely. Chance of precipitation is 70 percent with new snow accumulation of 1 to 2 inches possible but little or no ice accumulation expected. Chance of precipitation is 50 percent on Monday with new snow accumulation of less than one inch possible. Recovery is not expected until Tuesday, when it should be sunny and warm up to 41 degrees.

 

"Busy, a lot going on," Maj. Frank Stout said Sunday morning from the county emergency operations center, which the county activated at 8 Saturday night. First responders had been answering emergency calls related to power outages throughout the night, downed trees and power lines and abandoned vehicles blocking roads.

"We've got some downed power lines," Stout said. "A lot of people are getting out and about and they can't go and they're leaving their vehicle in the roadway so we're having a difficult time trying to get to people to help them because people have left their car in the middle of the road." Conditions are too hazardous for travel, he emphasized, and NCDOT snowplows likely won't get to secondary roads until Monday. "Don't be out joy riding or seeing if you can get out and about because it really has put us in a bind with trying to navigate and get emergency resources where they need to go."

The county is opening an emergency shelter at East Henderson High School that will offer storm refugees shelter and food.

"There's been some issue with oxygen ox bottles going out and power," he said. "The rescue and fire departments have been very timely responding to those needs."

Stout said the emergency operations center had received reports of snowfall totals ranging from 10-11 inches in Mills River to 15 inches or more in other areas.

With much of North Carolina under several inches of snow and more snow and ice on the way, Gov. Roy Cooper is urging residents to stay off roads that are extremely dangerous in many areas.

“Enjoy the beauty, but respect the danger," he said. "This storm is treacherous, especially if you try to drive in it. Travel conditions are extremely hazardous. Don’t put your life and the lives of first responders at risk by getting out on roads covered with snow and ice."

Overnight, N.C. Department of Transportation crews worked with the State Highway Patrol and National Guard to clear tractor trailers that jackknifed on Saluda Grade on I-26 in Polk County — closing the interstate for a few hours. They also cleared a wreck that closed I-40 in Haywood County. Sunday morning, a tractor-trailer ran off a bridge in Lenoir County, closing U.S. 70 near Kinston.  

Forecasters say the storm will continue into Monday and many areas face up to a foot or more of additional snow. Areas along and northwest of I-85 will see the greatest amounts of snow. Mixed icy precipitation will bring significant impacts to those living just southeast of I-85 and across the southern mountains.

Freezing rain is the greatest concern in Charlotte and elsewhere along and just south of the I-85 corridor and in the southern mountains. Forecasters see the potential for ice accumulations of .20-.30 inches in these areas, which brings extremely hazardous driving conditions and increased potential for power outages. 

Three to four inches of snow had fallen in the Triangle, with an additional three inches of wintry precipitation anticipated. Roanoke Rapids could see an additional three inches of snow, and two more inches are expected to fall in Rocky Mount and Greenville.

Power outages are growing. As of noon, more than 200,000 North Carolina homes and businesses were without power, mostly in the mountain counties, the Triangle and Mecklenburg County. Utility companies have brought in more than 1,500 crews from other states to help and are working quickly to restore power. 

Since midnight the State Highway Patrol had responded to 509 crashes and 1,100 calls for service, the governor's office said. Overnight, N.C. Department of Transportation crews worked with the State Highway Patrol and National Guard to clear tractor trailers that jackknifed on Saluda Grade on I-26 in Polk County – closing the interstate for a few hours. They also cleared a wreck that closed I-40 in Haywood County. This morning, a tractor-trailer ran off a bridge in Lenoir County, closing U.S. 70 near Kinston.  

Cooper said people can help road crews best by staying off the roads and out of their way. Stranded and wrecked vehicles are making it harder to clear the roads, and that makes it unsafe for everyone. The NCDOT has about 3,200 staff and 2,400 trucks with snow plows on the job and more than 135,000 tons of salt available to spread. Already, NCDOT crews have used more than 13,000 tons of salt and 1,600 tons of a salt and sand mixture to clear roads. Those numbers will climb, as crews continue to work until roads are cleared. 

NCDOT is also ready to deploy crews to cut and remove downed trees from roads. Additional transportation crews on the coast are readying to deploy to help their colleagues in central North Carolina.

Governor Cooper has declared a State of Emergency for the entire state and activated National Guard troops with vehicles to respond as needed. Twenty-four counties have declared states of emergencies, and eleven shelters have opened, mainly in western North Carolina. 

The State Emergency Operations Center is open with Emergency Management, the Department of Transportation, the Highway Patrol, the National Guard and utilities working together to keep North Carolina safe through the storm.

To stay safe during the storm, Governor Cooper and North Carolina Emergency Management officials urge you to:

  • Stay at home and off the roads.
  • Dress warmly. Wear multiple layers of thin clothing instead of a single layer of thick clothing.
  • Properly vent kerosene heaters and keep any electric generators outside and away from open windows or doors to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning. Never burn charcoal or operate grills indoors.
  • Monitor changing forecasts and weather conditions closely.
  • Keep an emergency kit in your vehicle. Include scraper, jumper cables, tow chain, sand/salt, blankets, flashlight, first aid kit and road map.

Cooper also encourages North Carolinians to check on neighbors, especially the elderly and disabled, and include pets in their emergency plans. To keep animals safe during winter weather, emergency management officials recommend you:

  • Keep an emergency supplies kit for your pet and include medical records, first aid kit, enough canned/dry food and water for 3 - 7 days and pet travel bag or carrier.
  • Bring pets inside when temperatures drop below freezing.
  • Ensure your pet has a well-fitting collar with identification.
  • Move livestock and other animals to a sheltered location with food and water.