Getting back to normal

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, January 28, 2004

Here comes the sun, and just in the nick of time.

As Wednesday morning dawned, so did the sunshine. Even though the bite of winter remained in the air – yesterday’s high temperature reached 38 degrees under a stiff breeze – the radiant heat plus the wind dramatically helped the Roanoke-Chowan area begin the thawing process from a persistent storm that produced snow, sleet and freezing rain from Sunday through Tuesday.

The forecast over the next 72 hours appears promising – highs today, Friday and Saturday in the low to mid 40’s under mostly sunny to partly cloudy skies. That will allow for a major meltdown of the ice left in the wake of the three-day blast from Old Man Winter. That comes as great news to those out on the front lines battling the elements.

&uot;The sunshine is our biggest ally,&uot; said Lydia McKeel, North Carolina Department of Transportation Maintenance Engineer with the Division office in Union that covers Bertie and Hertford counties.

She continued, &uot;We’re hoping that between a bright sun and temperatures finally rising above the freezing mark, it will help us finish clearing the secondary roads in our region.&uot;

McKeel reported that with the exception of a few icy spots, most in heavily shaded areas, all of the major highways – US 158, US 258, US 13, US 17, NC 11, NC 305, NC 308, NC 561, NC 45, NC 42, NC 35 – are now cleared. She said that the state DOT office requires major roads to be cleared first, followed by connecting arteries between major roads and, finally, secondary roads.

She stated that ice removal from the secondary roads in the region began in earnest on Tuesday. Extra assistance in performing that task has come from DOT crews in Camden and Pasquotank counties as well as from private contractors.

&uot;The counties to our east were not greatly affected by the freezing rain,&uot; noted McKeel. &uot;It was 30 degrees here Tuesday, while over in the Elizabeth City office, the temperature reached 38 degrees. Thusly, they were able to send manpower our way.&uot;

DOT crews, using rotating shifts, have worked around the clock since 10 a.m. on Sunday. As of noon on Wednesday, a total of 74 hours of manpower had been placed on clearing the local roads, and the job isn’t over.

&uot;Between our efforts and with help from the abundant sunshine, we hope to finish all of the secondary roads by Thursday,&uot; she said. &uot;Our crews were prepared for the storm and have been hard at work since Sunday morning. They sacrificed their family time in order to quickly and efficiently clear the roads of snow and ice.&uot;

McKeel added that, as of noon on Wednesday, roughly 350-to-400 tons of sand and salt had been used to help melt the ice.

In Northampton County, DOT Maintenance Engineer Jack Liverman said all primary roads are clear, but the secondary roads remain a major problem.

&uot;There’s a one-inch crust of ice on most of our secondary roads that has proven extremely tough to remove,&uot; noted Liverman. &uot;Most of the secondary roads in our system are ‘rock-and-tar’ roads. Ice really bonds to these roads.&uot;

As of noon on Wednesday, Liverman estimates that the DOT Maintenance Yard in Jackson has gone through approximately 400 tons each of salt and sand.

&uot;It’s been spread countywide, from Lake Gaston to Rich Square,&uot; he said.

Liverman added that Northampton DOT crews have worked around the clock since Sunday and will continue to do so until a combination of manpower and radiant sunshine clear the roads. His office has received assistance from DOT crews in Bertie County and Creswell.

The sleet and freezing rain that fell Sunday night through Tuesday on top of a thin layer of snow turned area roadways into proverbial skating rinks. Hundreds of motor vehicle accidents were reported. Thankfully, none resulted in serious injuries.

At the Ahoskie office of the North Carolina Highway Patrol (NCHP) – which serves Bertie, Gates and Hertford counties – Sgt. B.J. Jones reported 58 calls were received from midnight Sunday through noon on Wednesday. He said that most were of the single-vehicle variety, those slipping off the roadways and into ditches.

&uot;There are still patches of ice present where melting occurred on Tuesday and it refroze on Tuesday night,&uot; stated Sgt. Jones. &uot;I’m thinking the same thing will occur on Thursday morning after the melting on Wednesday and it glazing back over at night when the temperature falls below 32 degrees.&uot;

Jones added that the ice on the roads within the region appears to be worse in the northern and western .

An NCHP spokesperson with the office in Roanoke Rapids – covering Halifax and Northampton counties – reported 149 calls from Sunday through midnight on Tuesday. Of that number, 116 were vehicle accidents, most of which were single-vehicle mishaps pertaining to motorists slipping off the roadways due to ice. No serious injuries were reported.

Fortunately, local citizens did not have to endure the storm in the dark. Power outages were kept to a minimum.

Marshall Cherry, Vice-President for Member Services with Roanoke Electric Cooperative, said the storm’s impact on the power grid was minimal.

&uot;At our peak, we had about 125 members without power for a brief time on Tuesday,&uot; said Cherry. &uot;These outages were very scattered over the system. We feel very fortunate to have made it through this potential threat to the system as easily as we did.&uot;

Roanoke-Chowan area public schoolchildren have enjoyed a brief break from their studies due to the weather. Systems in Bertie, Hertford and Northampton canceled classes on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. As of News-Herald press time late on Wednesday, it is not known if those systems will reopen today.

Gates County public schools reopened yesterday on a two-hour delay.

The winter storm affected most all of North Carolina. To date, it has claimed seven lives on state highways.

The North Carolina National Guard sent manpower to patrol a stretch of I-95 in Nash and Wilson counties where ice caused numerous accidents, snarling traffic for hours. Some stranded motorists were taken to temporary shelter at the Hunt High School gym in Wilson

Meanwhile, the southeastern part of the state was hit hard by freezing rain. At its peak, approximately 19,590 customers of North Carolina electric cooperative systems were without power. The majority of those customers live in Bladen, Columbus and Pender counties.

On Tuesday, North Carolina Governor Mike Easley declared a State of Emergency, calling for citizens to remain off the roads until DOT crews, with the assistance of Mother Nature’s &uot;chilled&uot; sunshine, could scrape away the ice.

For those making travel plans, either locally or statewide, log onto and click on the &uot;Real Time Travel&uot; link for the latest road conditions. Those reports are updated four times daily.