The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools and other systems announced Wednesday closings while road and utilities crews rushed final preparations for the expected arrival of a major winter storm around daybreak in the Charlotte region.
Forecasters say the storm, which is predicted to arrive shortly after daybreak, will bring about 10 inches of snow to Charlotte and nearly a foot to northern Mecklenburg County and Gastonia. Lesser amounts of snow are expected southeast of Charlotte, but those residents will be trading snow for damaging ice accumulations.
A number of school systems didn’t wait to respond. Officials with the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools and at CPCC and UNC Charlotte announced by late afternoon Tuesday that they will be closed Wednesday. So are systems in Anson, Cabarrus and Union counties, and most other counties are expected to join the list.
The winter storm is predicted to bring up to 1 inch of ice in the Columbia area. Such an ice accumulation could cause power outages that last for several days, authorities said. Meteorologists said the damaging ice buildups could reach as far inland as southeastern Union County and Lancaster County.
Gov. Pat McCrory in North Carolina and Gov. Nikki Haley in South Carolina declared states of emergency, allowing authorities to mobilize any resources needed to battle the storm. The order includes a waiver on weight restrictions and work hours for truck drivers who deliver supplies, restore utilities or clear debris.
“Our residents, as well as our livestock industry, need heat and electricity,” McCrory said from Raleigh, where damaging ice accumulations also are expected.
National Weather Service meteorologist John Tomko said the snow will begin in Charlotte around 8 or 9 a.m. “Actually, we expect the precipitation to continue into the early-morning hours Thursday, but the heaviest precipitation will come after midday Wednesday,” Tomko said.
An official forecast issued by the Weather Service late Tuesday called for 10.3 inches of snow in Charlotte, 11.4 inches in Huntersville and 11.8 inches in Gastonia. That would be the largest snowfall for Charlotte since a 13.2-inch storm Feb. 26-27, 2004. That storm dropped about 20 inches in southern Mecklenburg and northern York counties.
Local officials mirrored the preparations being made at the state level. Gaston County Emergency Management met Tuesday afternoon with representatives from the schools, American Red Cross, N.C. Department of Transportation, police and fire personnel to discuss plans.
“In the morning, we’ll reevaluate the forecast and go from there,” Emergency Management Administrator Tommy Almond said. Pondering Wednesday’s forecast, Almond said, “I’m hoping for sunshine but don’t think we’ll get it.”
In Charlotte, the American Red Cross opened a warming center late Tuesday afternoon at 618 North College Street and said it would remain open until at least noon Wednesday. “We can ensure that everyone who needs a warm place to stay out of the cold has the opportunity to keep warm,” said Charlotte Mecklenburg Emergency Management director Wayne Broome.
Meteorologists said computer models late Tuesday pointed toward more snow and less sleet and freezing rain for the Charlotte region. In fact, forecasters said they expect most of the precipitation to be snow in Charlotte, although southern and western Union County and southeastern Mecklenburg County could get up to 1/5 of an inch of ice. Typically, officials say, ice accumulations of 1/4 inch or more can cause widespread power outages.
A first wave of snow moved across a strip of counties along the state line Tuesday, leaving about an inch in Charlotte and Gastonia. No snow fell in areas north of Charlotte, but up to 3 inches were reported in the Greenville-Spartanburg area. Tuesday’s snow didn’t cause major problems, though, as roads remained in good shape.
“At this time our streets are in good conditon,” Matthews spokeswoman Annette Privette-Keller said Tuesday afternoon, echoing a report issued from most other towns in the area.
“Right now, everything is wet,” Jen Thompson of the N.C. Department of Transportation said. “Temperatures are at or above freezing, and everything is melting. But we’re worried about black ice forming tonight, and then of course we’re planning for whatever happens tomorrow.”
Thompson said the DOT has 35 state trucks and three motor-graders ready to plow accumulating snow in Mecklenburg, Cabarrus, Union, Anson and Stanly counties. In addition, 65 trucks working under contract with the state are prepared to spread salt and brine.
“Those trucks are staging today, getting ready,” Thompson said.