Deep Freeze

Published 9:39 pm Friday, January 5, 2018

The good news is that a major shift towards more seasonable weather is coming.

The bad news is that the Roanoke-Chowan area will remain in the proverbial deep freeze Saturday and Sunday.

Another blast of Arctic weather gripped the local counties on Friday, and those dangerously cold temperatures are expected to stick around over the weekend.

The forecast from the National Weather Service Office in Wakefield, VA calls for sunshine Saturday and Sunday, but without much warmth. Highs both days will struggle to reach 25 degrees. Overnight lows will hover near zero.

On Friday, the NWS issued a Wind Chill Advisory until 10 a.m. on Saturday. Wind chills are forecasted between 5 to 10 degrees below zero during that time.

Local medical officials say that wind chill values that low can lead to frostbite to exposed skin in 30 minutes or less for those venturing outside. They say if you must be out in the elements to wear several layers of clothing, cover your face, and wear insulated boots.

Indoors, drip faucets to help prevent pipes from freezing. And be sure to bring pets indoors.

These extremely low temperatures will prevent local roadways from shedding the ice and snow left in the wake of Wednesday night’s storm. NCDOT has worked hard to clear the main roads in the local area, but icy spots – particularly in heavily shaded areas remain. The majority of local back roads remain covered in snow and ice, leading to extremely treacherous travel.

Bowls positioned on deck railing collect fresh snow to make snow cream. Staff Photo by Holly Taylor

Black ice will be problematic on local roads. Black ice is snow or ice that has melted and refrozen into thin layers. Because it looks like a wet spot on the road, it appears black like the pavement. To treat it, NCDOT applies rock salt to aid in melting. Sand is sometimes added to help increase traction and break down the ice.

NCDOT said the best way to avoid black ice is to stay off roads unless you absolutely must go out. If you do, drive slowly and leave plenty of space between vehicles in front of you.

Also, if you are out on the road it’s advised to carry along a few blankets, food/water, and a flashlight or flares in case you become stranded.

Warmer weather is on its way. The NWS is forecasting Monday’s high in the upper 40’s with an overnight low of 35. Rain is expected on Tuesday with a high of 50 degrees.

As far as Wednesday’s winter storm, the local area experienced seven inches of snow in most spots. There were isolated areas of 10 inches or more in northern Hertford County and southwestern Gates County.

Hertford County Emergency Management Director Chris Smith reported an average of 5 to 7 inches of snow fell. “That wasn’t the major problem,” he stated, “rather it’s the snow drifts that are as high as five feet in some spots I saw.”

Smith said those drifts were extremely problematic for those on the roads Thursday morning before DOT began their efforts.

“We – EM, the sheriff’s deputies, and town police – had about 25-to-30 calls that morning from stranded motorists,” he reported. “The majority of those vehicles encountered snow drifts on the roads, while a few others slipped off the road into the ditch.”

The winter storm which rolled through the eastern half of North Carolina Wednesday night and early Thursday morning left behind about 6 inches of snow throughout Northampton County.

“Maybe a little more on the Rich Square side and the southeastern side,” reported Ronnie Storey Jr, the county’s Emergency Management Coordinator.

According to Storey, the DOT had been hard at work all day Thursday and Friday to get the roads clear, but the process hadn’t been easy, particularly because of low temperatures and high winds.

“This snow drifted due to the wind,” he explained. “There was a lot of snow on the road in places. Our highways are just not designed like they are up North, so it just takes a while.”

Storey said DOT’s focus has been on clearing the primary highways first. He estimated there would be some secondary roads that the DOT wouldn’t be able to get to until Friday.

As of Friday, the county hadn’t seen any major vehicle accidents. The only issues on the roads had been several incidences of people’s vehicles sliding off the road and into the ditch.

Storey also confirmed that Northampton County had not had any residential fires or reported power outages as a result of the storm either.

“There were a lot of outages in other counties, but I guess we were very fortunate,” he said.

Storey cautioned people to stay safe even in the aftermath of the snow storm, saying, “If they can stay home, that would definitely be a good move.”

Bertie County Scott Sauer said private contractors are being used to clear the Courthouse, the Health Department, Department of Social Services, and Sheriff’s Office parking lots.

“We might open county offices with a couple of hours delay on Monday just to make sure we’ve got all the steps and sidewalks clear. The courts are probably going to follow our schedule as well,” Sauer said on Friday. “We expect our regularly scheduled county commissioners meeting to begin at 2 p.m. with the kickoff to Bertie’s Poverty Initiative.

Dr. Del Burns, Interim Superintendent of Bertie County Schools, said the maintenance department has been working to clear the parking lots and the sidewalks at all county-owned schools.

“These crews will work through the weekend, if necessary to clear away the snow. Snow is easy, ice is much harder to clear,” Dr. Burns stated.

As far as allowing students and staff to return to school on Monday, Burns stressed on Friday it was too early to make that decision.

“I’ve been driving around the county and many of the secondary roads I observed (as of Friday) are not passable and many still have ice on them; thick layers of ice all throughout the county. Safety is our first concern and that’s why we will monitor the situation closely,” he remarked.

“As of now (Friday), no decision has been made, and we probably won’t may a final call before Sunday evening; but we will make it early enough so that our students and staff will be informed,” Burns added.

Bertie County Emergency Services Director Mitch Cooper said the winter storm did not cause any major incidents.

“We’ve only had a report of two accidents that have come into our office from the snow so we’ve fared pretty well for the amount of snow we’ve had. In the Windsor area we saw between 6 and 8 inches accumulation and toward Lewiston it was close to 4” to 6 inches,” Cooper said.

“We’re recommending to people to just stay warm. We’ve got a few more bitterly cold nights ahead in the single-digits, and that’s a concern. So we’re just telling folks to stay indoors and not move around unless it’s absolutely necessary; and then respond appropriately. In a few days all of this will be over with,” he added.