Southeastern North Carolina is expected to get hammered today, but with more rain than ice or snow, as the first winter storm of 2016 sweeps across the state, but local emergency and highway officials are preparing nonetheless.
At the Independent’s deadline Thursday, the National Weather Service had issued a freezing rain advisory for Sampson and surrounding counties, as well as a winter weather advisory, both which are in effect until midday today. Sampson County Schools had also canceled school Friday, but no such cancellations or delays had been put into effect by Clinton City Schools officials as of Thursday evening.
According to Keith Eason, N.C. Department of Transportation official, the department was busy Thursday making preparations for the impending bad weather that could have major impacts in the Carolinas through the day Saturday.
“Our guys are preparing to apply brine to the roadways,” Eason said Thursday morning when contacted by telephone.
Once the advisory for Sampson County went out, Eason said DOT officials began mixing the salt concoction and then began the pre-treatment Thursday afternoon to allow time for it to begin working, just in time for the bad weather to come through Friday and Saturday.
The forecast for Sampson County for today includes the accumulation of snow and sleet of up to one inch. The wintry mixture is expected to become all rain as temperatures warm above freezing Friday afternoon.
Due to the threat of icy weather, local Highway Patrol officials are warning of the treacherous road conditions that can be expected on much of the state’s highways.
According to Patrol Sgt. S.F. Cotton, the department will have adequate manpower on the roads, checking for stranded motorists and those who are not abiding safe travel in the conditions.
“During inclement weather, most of the locals stay home, but there are those travelers that will be on the roadways,” Cotton said. “We encourage everyone to stay off the roads unless it is an absolute necessity to get out.”
Cotton said stranded motorists pose the most problems for Highway Patrol officials and tend to be what keeps officers the busiest.
“We don’t want anybody to get stuck out there,” Cotton added.
As for those who must get on the roads during the storm, Cotton said she encourages drivers to increase their distance between vehicles, slow down and watch for black ice.
“Black ice is a major problem,” the sergeant pointed out. “You can be driving along and never see it. That’s why we ask people to stay off the roads. When the temperatures drop below freezing, black ice causes a lot of concern.”
Officials from the county were busy during the day Thursday preparing for the pending storm, while encouraging residents to take caution and follow the instructions given by emergency personnel.
“Our Emergency Management officials will be participating in conference calls with the National Weather Service and Office of Emergency Management throughout the day to monitor the weather conditions,” noted Susan Holder, assistant county manger, Thursday. “They also remain in contact with agencies such as the Red Cross.”
Holder said the county staff was busy all day Thursday, fueling vehicles and ensuring they were in operating condition, while preparing the Emergency Operations Center to become active if necessary.
“This is the time we encourage all of our citizens to check the emergency kit they should have at home,” Holder added.
According to Holder, a good link to visit is http://www.ready.gov/winter-weather, where residents can find great tips on preparing for power outages, preparing their sidewalks and driveways for icing, preparing their vehicles for inclement weather, and of course, the items that should be added to their emergency kit for winter.
City officials were following many of the same procedures.
Clinton City Manager Shawn Purvis said the city’s emergency services personnel have been advised to operate under inclement weather procedures if necessary.
“We are monitoring the weather and preparing crews,” Purvis noted. “NCDOT and the city are placing brine solution on critical roads due to the possible icy conditions tonight (Thursday). We will have equipment and crews on standby. Emergency services personnel will operate under inclement weather procedures to ensure safe patrols and response.”
At press time Thursday, educational leaders had not been able to make a decision about schools on Friday, but said next week might become a problem if the storm continues into the weekend.
Dr. Stuart Blount, superintendent for Clinton City Schools, said the district’s employees were continuing to monitor the weather Thursday and would assess the conditions early today before making any calls.
“The safety of transporting our students to and from school is of great concern,” Blount shared Thursday morning. “In addition, students driving to school and employees having to drive to work, are also factors that influence adjustments to school days during inclement weather situations.”
Sampson County superintendent Dr. Eric Bracy said his staff does a great job of informing him of the road conditions, which aide in his decision to delay or close schools.
“We prepare for possible inclement weather by gathering as much information as we can about the incoming storm,” Bracy said. “Mr. Ronald Bass does a great job of keeping us informed by sharing his weather briefings with us. The briefings are critical in helping us make our decisions about school the next day. We look at the local TV stations and see what the current conditions and what they are forecasting.”
The transportation staff for both Sampson County and Clinton City Schools traveled Sampson County’s roads Thursday morning to help each superintendent make a decision for each of the five districts.
Both Blount and Bracy said parents would be notified of any delays and closings through their ConnectEd systems; additionally information would be available on Facebook, Twitter and through local media outlets. News of Sampson County Schools closings was being disseminated late Thursday afternoon, while Clinton City was still weighing the potential impact of the storm.
In the event school is canceled, both Sampson County and Clinton City have days built into the calendar for students to make up. According to Faith Jackson, community liaison with Clinton City Schools, if a day is missed, the Saturday following that day will be utilized as a make-up day.
Crews from North Carolina’s electric cooperatives were also preparing Thursday to respond to any power outages that may occur from the predicted winter weather. Cooperatives were on standby Thursday to restore power as quickly as possible if outages occur as a result of the forecasted winter storm.
South River and Four County EMC and Duke Energy provide electric service to much of Sampson County and were busy Thursday making preparations for the pending winter storm. According a press release from the Cooperative agencies, large amounts of ice can weigh down limbs causing them to break and fall onto power lines, while even a small amount of ice accumulation on power lines can cause power outages; therefore the Cooperative is getting ready to respond.
In the event of a power outage, South River customers should call 910-892-8071 or 1-888-338-5530 to report the outage. Duke Energy customers can report outages at 1-800-769-3766 or online if available. Four County customers should call 1-888-368-7289. Outage maps are available online for those who have internet access through a smart phone.
Reach Kristy D. Carter at 910-592-8137, ext. 2588. Follow us on Twitter at @SampsonInd. Like us on Facebook.