Durham receives thin blanket of snow

Jan. 28, 2014 @ 09:20 PM

An arctic front brought flurries Tuesday evening and into the overnight hours to Durham, covering the city in a thin blanket of white.

The first snowflakes were reported in the Raleigh-Durham area after 5:30 p.m., according to Shawna Cokley with the National Weather Service in Raleigh. Durham and Chapel Hill were expected to see about one to three inches of snow.

The winter storm warning remains in effect until 9 a.m. Wednesday.

Evening hours were expected to bring heavier snowfall, between 7 p.m. Tuesday into 10 a.m. Wednesday. Temperatures dipped to a low of 15 degrees overnight.

The air mass enveloped central North Carolina late Monday afternoon, combining with rain that spread northward into the region, mostly falling as snow, according to the National Weather Service.

Snow was expected to accumulate on area roads, such as I-40 and 15-501. The Orange County Department of Transportation road crews brined interstates and primary routes Monday, meaning they laid down a mixture of salt and water.

When crews start seeing accumulation on roadways, they’ll lay out rock salt, said Amanda Perry, N.C. DOT communications officer. If they see two or more inches of snow, that’s when crews start pushing snow off the road.

The brine should have adhered to the pavement, Perry added, due to Monday’s warm temperatures as well as Tuesday rush hours. The brine was supposed to keep the first flurries from freezing to the pavement.

Durham’s Public Works Department brined high-traffic streets Monday night into Tuesday morning, and the city had about 25 trucks ready to treat additional areas into the night.

The Raleigh-Durham International Airport ended their departing flights by 7 p.m., earlier than usual, and a majority of its early evening to late evening arrivals was cancelled. The State Highway Patrol said it was getting “slammed” with reports of accidents about 8 p.m.

Local shelters prepared to offer help to those still out in the cold. The Durham Rescue Mission, a faith-based organization that provides shelter to the homeless, shut down its thrift stores early and sent vans to pick up its employees and bring them back to the shelter.

“We don’t want to be out there in the ice ourselves,” said Rob Tart, chief operating officer of the mission.

He said they’ve welcomed 10 more people into the shelter recently due to the colder weather, including a man who was living in a tent near Duke Park off I-85.

Urban Ministries on Liberty Street, the Love and Respect House at 1604 Angier Avenue and Homestart on Homestead Road in Chapel Hill also opened their doors for the homeless.

Urban Ministries had welcomed 10 additional people into its shelter as the temperatures dropped. Monday and Tuesday nights had been “white-flagged,” meaning temperatures have fallen below 32 degrees and have become dangerous to those living outside.

Patrice Nelson, executive director of Urban Ministries of Durham, said in case shelter volunteers had problems with transportation, her staff prepared to pull a double shift. They are housing about 148 people.

“Over the past couple of weeks, we’ve seen an influx because of the cold weather,” Nelson said. “We’ve had several white-flag nights where we have seen new people.”

Tuesday afternoon, Jimmy Nelson and Nick Freeman walked through the brush alongside  the Cornwallis Road 15-501 exit, carrying their surveying equipment. They said the last time their work was affected by the weather was when it reached single-digit temperatures Jan. 7.

“You get used to it after a while,” Nelson said, lighting up a cigarette. “You learn to dress for it.”

Along Swift Avenue Tuesday afternoon, construction project superintendent Mike Williams watched as his bundled-up crew members weaved in and out of the wooden skeleton of what will become new student apartments.

Williams took off one of his thick gloves, revealing a little hand-warmer packet resting in his palm, and said they planned to work until it started snowing.

“I’m cold,” Williams said. “It’s hard to get out of bed in the morning.”

At Duke Gardens Tuesday afternoon, a sign had been posted warning visitors of ice on walkways. Only a few cars were parked in the lot as the sky darkened.

Duke psychology senior Preston Cotnoir lifted his Canon camera and snapped a shot of the half-frozen fountain. He was experimenting with shutter speed for one of his classes.

“I’ll probably head back out when it’s snowing,” he said.

Reed Fagan, a first-year graduate student with Duke Divinity School and a part-time Duke Gardens employee, stood next to a golf cart in the gardens, shoveling fresh soil around the plants.

“I’ve got two pairs of socks on right now, and my feet are still cold,” Fagan said.

Another golf cart whirred up to him, and his supervisor, Jan Watson, told him to pack up his equipment, that everyone was leaving work due to the latest weather update, before she drove off.

Fagan said he grew up in Kansas City, where they get a “real winter.” He was planning to ride his bike in the snow later that evening, but he decided instead to have a friend drive him.

“I don’t trust North Carolina drivers in the snow,” he said.