‘We were lucky’

Published 3:43 pm Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Tuesday’s snowstorm fell short of the predicted accumulation, but it still left the Roanoke-Chowan area appearing as a winter wonderland.

Despite a forecast that called for 10-14 inches of snow, the region – stretching from Pleasant Hill in western Northampton County to Merry Hill in eastern Bertie County, and as far north as Drum Hill in Gates County – saw more along the lines of six inches.

“There were some higher drifts, upwards to a foot or more, but generally we were lucky on this storm as the predictions failed to match the actual amount of snow we received,” stated Hertford County Emergency Management Director Chris Smith.

All of the region’s Emergency Managers – to include Mitch Cooper in Bertie, Ronnie Storey Jr. in Northampton and Billy Winn in Gates – agreed that the snowfall left local roads in a mess.

“I have to tip my hat to DOT (Department of Transportation), they were out on Tuesday night trying to keep the snow from building up on our primary routes,” said Winn. “If they had waited to start when the snow finally subsided before daybreak on Wednesday, they would have a big chore to handle. Their earlier efforts helped with the overall job they faced.”

“At least we didn’t get what the folks down to our south got – freezing rain and sleet; I’d much rather deal with the snow than pure ice,” Smith remarked.

Whatever the case, local emergency responders – EMS, law enforcement and firemen – still responded to calls.

Bertie’s Emergency Management office had 11 staffers working as of early Wednesday morning in seven vehicles.

“The Sheriff’s Department also has had a couple of 4-wheel drive vehicles at the ready in case we need them,” Cooper said, “but so far we are managing.  We did need their assistance (BCSO) in transporting a patient following a late night emergency call, but all four of the county EMS vehicles are up and in service.”

Smith said the only major concern was that EMS crews responding to calls are dramatically slowed by the snow-covered roads.

“Please be patient with the EMS responders, and that would go for law enforcement and fire departments as well, as they’re facing treacherous driving conditions, especially on our secondary roads,” he said. “I expect those delays to continue until at least Thursday, especially those calls on our secondary roads.”

Storey agreed.

“It’s bad on the back roads,” he noted. “DOT is doing a good job on the primary roads and that’s their main focus, to clear those major highways. I expect it to be sometimes Thursday or perhaps Friday until the back roads are passable.

“If you do venture out on Thursday, please be very careful as some snow-covered or icy patches will remain, even on the main roads,” Storey added.

“If we get some sunshine, that will help,” Smith said. “It’s supposed to be nicer on Thursday, with the temperature rising above freezing that afternoon.”

“The secondary roads have been a challenge,” Cooper added, “but DOT vehicles are working to do the best they can as quickly as they can.”

There was one major power outage in Gates County during the height of the snowstorm Tuesday night. Winn reported that Dominion Power’s main line from Chuckatuck, VA malfunctioned, causing the Sunbury substation to go off line. That resulted in 2,500-plus households – combined between Dominion and Roanoke Electric Cooperative customers – without power, some for upwards to three hours.

Cooper said as of Wednesday morning there were no reports of major damage and no electric power outages had been reported in Bertie County. His office also had the same advice for the county’s citizens that other service personnel have been emphasizing and recommending.

“Stay inside and keep warm,” he cautioned. “The roads have not all been cleared so don’t venture out unless you absolutely have to.  If you must be out, try to reach your destinations before dark, and that would apply to those traveling on Thursday as well.”

Bertie County Sheriff John Holley and his officers were kept on alert Tuesday night.

“It’s still rough out there,” the sheriff said Wednesday morning, “and it’s really going to be bad tonight (Wednesday) into Thursday morning with anything melting refreezing Wednesday night.”

Holley said instead of their usual cruisers, deputies were being deployed in 4-wheel drive vehicles throughout the day.

“We have two or three out on the road, and we’ve borrowed another one from the county and another from civil processing,” he stated.

“Drive slow if you have to be out, take your time and give yourself ample time to arrive at your destination. Please, please try to only be out if absolutely necessary,” Holley suggested.

Based on the condition of the maze of secondary roads that dot the landscape of the Roanoke-Chowan area, all Emergency Managers agree that local public and private schools will remain closed on Thursday, possibly Friday as well. First Sgt. Mike Warren of the North Carolina State Highway Patrol district office in Ahoskie thinks that will be the scenario as well.

“That’s not my call, but based on what I’ve seen, especially on the secondary roads, I wouldn’t think the kids would go back to school until Monday of next week,” said Warren. “I wouldn’t dare to put a school bus out there just yet, especially on the back roads.”

Northampton County Public School officials did announce early Wednesday afternoon that classes were canceled on Thursday for students and staff. County Manager Ken Creque said all Northampton County local government offices will not be open on Thursday, except for emergency personnel.

Warren added that there were a few minor weather-related accidents Tuesday night and he was experiencing a “quiet Wednesday.”

“The majority of our local citizens are heeded the warnings about staying off the road Tuesday night and Wednesday,” he said. “I think we’ll see more folks attempting to get out on the road on Thursday. I would say to them to remain vigilant for snow and icy patches on the road. Slow down, take your time, leave plenty of space between you and the motorist ahead of you, and do not brake suddenly unless you absolutely have to.”

If you must drive, NCDOT offers the following safety tips for driving in winter weather:

Clear windows and mirrors;

Approach bridges and overpasses with extreme caution and do not apply your brakes while on a bridge unless necessary;

If you begin to slide, take your foot off the gas and turn the steering wheel in the direction of the slide. Do not apply the brakes as that will cause further loss of control of the car;

Come to a complete stop or yield the right of way when approaching an intersection in case any vehicles coming from other directions lose control of their vehicles while trying to stop;

If you have a cellular phone, take it with you. You can contact the Highway Patrol statewide by calling *HP (*47) or call law enforcement in the event of an emergency by dialing 911; and

Travelers are asked NOT to call 911 or the State Highway Patrol for road conditions. The lines must remain clear for emergency calls.

NCDOT has produced several videos explaining how maintenance crews prepare for winter weather months in advance, how they determine when to use salt and sand, and how they decide which roads to clear first. These videos and many others are available on the NCDOT YouTube page.

For real-time travel information at any time, call 511, visit www.ncdot.gov/travel or follow NCDOT on Twitter at www.ncdot.gov/travel/twitter. Another option is NCDOT Mobile, a phone-friendly version of the NCDOT website. To access it, type “m.ncdot.gov” into the browser of your smartphone. Then, bookmark it to save for future reference.

You can also get emergency information from the N.C. Department of Public Safety at http://readync.org, and download the ReadyNC app to help you prepare for everything from road conditions to severe storms on a daily basis. It is available for free in the AppStore for iPhones and Google Play for Android devices.