Area recovering from winter storm

Published 11:26 am Tuesday, February 2, 2010

The first major snowfall in nearly a decade was a delight for some and a headache for others.

With snowfall totals ranging from 3-to-11 inches across the four-county area, the weekend weather event sent thrill-seekers searching for ways to enjoy the slippery snow and ice. Meanwhile, emergency responders across the region were keeping their collective fingers crossed, wishing for a quiet weekend.

In general, everyone got their wishes fulfilled, but, as expected, there were isolated cases of tragedy – a deadly residential fire in Woodland and a pair of Ahoskie mishaps (see stories, this page).

Thanks to the sleet taking over Saturday afternoon, the overall snow totals came in much lower than originally projected by the National Weather Service (NWS). However, those ice pellets did not cause any widespread power outages.

Billy Winn, Gates County’s Emergency Management Director, reported six and one-half to seven inches of the white stuff.

“It was a pretty quite weekend over here in Gates County,” Winn said Monday morning, taking a break from shoveling snow, with the help of Gates County Manager Toby Chappell, from the sidewalks in the area of the county’s government buildings in Gatesville.

Winn continued, “We didn’t lose power, and that’s a good thing considering how cold it was, and we had only two minor traffic accidents, neither resulting in injuries. The roads over here are in pretty good shape, especially the main roads. DOT (Department of Transportation) is still working on the back roads. Some of those are still ice-covered.”

Lydia McKeel of the DOT office in Ahoskie said that all primary routes in the area should be clear by “quitting time” Monday.

“Our secondary routes will be approximately 50 percent clear in Hertford and Bertie,” she said. “Some routes will still be covered and others will be clear.”

McKeel said DOT’s efforts have been hindered by very low temperatures and the fact that de-icing chemicals stop working at 20 degrees and below.

The threat of icy back roads has led all local school systems to cancel classes for Tuesday. That is not the case for Chowan University in Murfreesboro where students are scheduled to return to class on Tuesday after a brief break from education on Monday due to the icy roads and sidewalks at the university.

Gates County Superintendent Dr. Zenobia Smallwood confirmed that schools in the county will be closed on Tuesday.

“I can’t say for sure what we’ll do beyond Tuesday,” Dr. Smallwood said. “I went out on Monday and our main roads in the county looked good, but there were still some back roads covered with ice. We’ll look at those roads and get a report from DOT on Tuesday in order to decide what we’ll do for Wednesday.

“We assess each day for the next day,” she continued. “Once we make our decision on closing schools, we utilize our Connect-Ed (telephone) system and let our parents know of our decision far enough in advance so they can make necessary arrangements.”

Decisions to close local schools on Tuesday was also based on the threat of more winter weather. The NWS was predicting a brief period of sleet before 10 a.m. on Tuesday. Rain was likely after that time with a high temperature forecasted at 41 degrees.

Rain was to continue Tuesday night followed by sunny skies on Wednesday with a high of 49 degrees.

The rain and Wednesday’s sunshine should be the allies of DOT crews as they work to finish clearing the ice-covered back roads.

“I think DOT did a tremendous job, considering all the snow and ice we had Friday night and for most of the day on Saturday,” said NC Highway Patrol 1st Sgt. Todd Lane of the Troop A, District II office in Ahoskie.

“As expected, we answered several calls for motor vehicle accidents, but nothing like I expected, and none of the accidents were investigated over the weekend were serious,” Lane noted. “That was the result of two things – (one) the DOT working hard on our local roads, and (two) local citizens heeding the warning to stay at home and off the roads. Even those who had to travel due to an emergency or because they had to report to work used extreme caution, which resulted in a lower number of accidents.”

Still, Sgt. Lane cautioned the motoring public to remain cautious while traveling during the few days ahead.

“There are still some ice-covered roads and, with temperatures falling below freezing Monday and Tuesday nights, there will be some black ice in areas, particularly the back roads,” he said. “We continue to ask the motoring public to exercise extreme caution. Allow yourself extra time to reach your destination and be sure to keep more than the usual distance between your vehicle and the one you may be following.”

Sgt. Lane also reminded motorists to keep warm clothing in their vehicle, perhaps some food and water, in the event they become stranded following an accident and have to wait for help to arrive.

Meanwhile, McKeel wanted to make sure that citizens were made aware of how roads are prioritized for snow and ice removal. The following is an applicable portion of the DOT’s snow clearing policy:

It is the policy of the Division of Highways not to remove snow and ice from sidewalks, nor it is the policy to clear driveways and/or driveway entrances of snow and ice.

It is the policy of the Division of Highways to provide for the removal of snow and ice in the following order of priority:

1. Those routes included in the Bare Pavement System. These generally consist of all Interstate and four-lane divided primary routes and other primary and secondary routes considered to be essential to the fulfillment of the overall objectives of snow and ice removal – the movement of intrastate traffic.

2. Other US & NC routes not included in the Bare Pavement System.

3. Other paved secondary routes not included in the Bare Pavement System.

4. Unpaved secondary routes.

The Bare Pavement Policy provides for the direct application of deicing chemicals to those routes included in the Bare Pavement System. This policy also requires that these routes will be the first cleared of snow and ice following a storm. Insofar as is possible and practical, traffic will be kept moving on these routes during a storm; however, it is not the policy to maintain a “bare pavement” throughout the course of all storms. Those routes not on the Bare Pavement System will be cleared by plowing operations and without direct application of deicing chemicals except in cases of extreme emergency. These emergencies will normally be limited to specific locations (shaded areas on hills, super elevated curves, etc.) where extremely hazardous conditions exist.