The Daily Tar Heel

Serving the students and the University community since 1893

Wednesday May 25th

NC officials coordinate winter relief

Sleet and freezing rain caused the brunt of the winter storm's damage in North Carolina as slick roads led to six fatal crashes and ice cut power in areas with otherwise minor snow pile. 

“The majority of time … whether it’s a fatality or property damage wreck or wreck that incurs injuries, it’s simply because people are traveling too fast for the road conditions,” said Lt. Jeff Gordon, N.C. State Highway Patrol spokesperson. “In snow, (four wheel drive) does give people the ability to drive more easily, but when you culminate that with ice … all four wheels will still slide.” 

With the country’s ninth largest population and second largest road system, North Carolina's emergencies demand widespread collaboration, said Michael Sprayberry, director of the North Carolina Division of Emergency Management.

“Back in 2006, the General Assembly awarded $8.5 million to build a new state emergency operations center, and we partnered up with the State Department of Transportation, the National Guard and the Highway Patrol so we’re all co-located and have a daily relationship with those guys," he said. 

Gov. Pat McCrory's prompt declaration of a state of emergency facilitated storm preparation, said Sprayberry.

“It gives us the legal authority to go ahead and quickly respond with all the resources that are available to the state agencies, and the transportation waivers allow us to waive time requirements for companies so we can bring in the utility trucks quickly and restore power," he said.

Steve Abbott, N.C. Department of Transportation spokesperson, said the DOT brined interstates, highways, ramps and overpasses with 2.2 million gallons of salt water Jan. 19 through 21 before snowfall. More than 2,000 trucks and graters deposited 23,845 tons of sand-salt mix as of noon Tuesday.

“You can’t plow ice,” Abbott said. “So if it stays really cold, we’d be in trouble. The break we got was on Sunday — it got above freezing, and that enabled us to break up a lot of the ice and push it off the roadways.”

Ice caused widespread power outages across North and South Carolina, peaking at 157,000 homes and businesses Friday afternoon, said Meredith Archie, a spokesperson for Duke Energy Corporation. 

“We worked throughout the storm to restore power to more than 600,000 customers,” she said. Priority was given to hospitals, first responders and vulnerable populations.

Duke Energy provides power to 85 counties in North Carolina including Orange County. Even though sleet and freezing temperatures hindered the clearing of roads, the town avoided outages, downed trees and accidents, Barry McLamb, Chapel Hill emergency management coordinator, said in an email.

“We were lucky in that our precipitation remained sleet rather than changing over to the freezing rain that hit Wake and Johnston Counties," he said. 

The DOT, McCrory and the Highway Patrol used the press and social media to urge the public to stay at home. 

"The big thing was local media, they were going what they call wall-to-wall, nonstop, and even though they were going out on the roads, they were telling people ‘don’t go out,’ and they were a big help in this,” said Abbott.

Gordon said during inclement weather, North Carolina’s 1,500 Highway Patrol troopers partner with staff from other state agencies to scan the roads for stranded cars. Gordon said some patrol vehicles are equipped with snow tires, but the trek is still risky.

“It’s not only that people cannot get around, but also first responders, EMT, police, fire, so forth, have to get out as well to go to these responding calls, and it’s just as difficult for them to drive through this weather,” Gordon said.

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