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Snow, sleet, ice headed to Triangle. Governor warns NC to ‘be prepared to stay put’

What kind of winter weather is heading our way?

Check out the ABC11 forecast for winter weather heading our way in Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill.
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Check out the ABC11 forecast for winter weather heading our way in Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill.

Gov. Roy Cooper said at a Friday press conference that he intends to declare a state of emergency as a major winter storm descends on North Carolina in the next two days.

The “worst case scenario” for snowfall in Wake County this weekend is 7 inches, along with sleet and wind gusts in the 28 mph range, according to the National Weather Service’s Friday morning update.

However, forecasters say the unpredictable storm system will likely top out closer to 2 inches in Raleigh while sleet and freezing ice are most likely on the western side of the county, according to the update.

The National Weather Service says a strip of counties running through the heart of the state -- including Wake County -- face the “greatest forecast uncertainty...due to the potential for multiple precipitation-type changes between snow, sleet and freezing rain.”

Gov. Roy Cooper said at the press conference that state officials are planning on the worst by activating a full array of emergency precautions, including some National Guardsmen.

The storm is likely to impact most of our state, he warned.

“This is not just a winter snow and ice event,” Cooper said. “It’s also going to be a heavy rain, freezing rain, potential flooding coastal storm event....You are talking about more than a foot of snow in many parts of the state. This is unusual and significant.”

NC Governor Roy Cooper briefs reporters on a dangerous winter storm approaching the state with possible snow and ice accumulations of a foot or more expected in some areas.

Cooper is warning North Carolinians that they should be prepared for cold temperatures to settle in after the initial rain and snow, creating slick roads for an extended period. “Be prepared to stay put for a few days when the storm rolls in,” Cooper said. “It looks like there will be a wide range of snowfall out there.”

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It’s likely more snow will fall in areas west and northeast of Wake County, with 5 inches in Durham, 6 inches in Henderson and 9 inches in Burlington, the forecast says. Sleet and freezing rain are most likely in the western side of the Wake.

Snow will likely start falling in Wake County between 5 a.m. and 7 a.m. Sunday, says the National Weather Service.

Forecasters admit there is a great deal of uncertainty in their snow predictions, given the difficulty of determining exactly where rain from the Gulf of Mexico will collide with cold air from the northeast.

The same “worst case scenario” that calls for 7 inches of snow in Wake County says 11 inches could fall in Durham and 10 in Pittsboro.

Even more will fall in the western part of the state.

Meteorologists are calling for at least 7 inches in the Charlotte area -- with a thin glaze of ice -- and double that snowfall amount in counties farther northwest.

The National Weather Service has issued a winter storm watch for much of western and central North Carolina. Snow and sleet are expected to start falling in western counties just after midnight Sunday and then spread across the central part of the state, with the highest accumulations falling north of Interstate 85.

Clouds will begin to thicken across the Triangle ahead of the storm on Saturday and a wintery mix of rain, snow and sleet is expected to arrive late Saturday, continuing on Sunday and possibly into Monday.

In Wake and surrounding counties, the National Weather Service is predicting “a period of wintry precipitation is possible with this system, primarily from early Sunday morning through the afternoon, and again Monday through Monday night. Some accumulations of snow and ice are possible.”

Travel hazards are expected in the Triangle, especially on Sunday, and power outages are possible throughout the central part of the state as soggy soil, snow or ice accumulation and gusty winds reaching as high as 30 mph could cause downed trees or power lines.

With the potential of winter weather this week, here are some tips for driving on icy or snow-covered roads.

“Even in locations with lesser snow accumulations, the potential for accumulations of sleet and freezing rain will impact travel,” the weather service said.

Gov. Roy Cooper on Thursday urged North Carolinians to follow the storm’s forecast closely.

“The forecast is still evolving, but we know that parts of the state are facing the potential for several inches of snow, and other forms of winter precipitation will also be a threat,” Cooper said in a news release. “Everyone needs to be ready for cold temperatures, hazardous driving conditions and the possibility of power outages.”

State officials planned to open the State Emergency Operations Center on Sunday, according to the governor’s office.

Snow already fell in northwestern North Carolina earlier this week, so N.C. Department of Transportation crews were at work plowing highways and brining roads. Crews were brining Interstate 40 in the Triangle on Thursday, though state officials asked people to limit travel during the storm.

For more information for how to prepare for winter storms, go to: readync.org.

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News & Observer reporter Abbie Bennett is a charter member of the McClatchy Carolinas real-time team. She is a graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s School of Journalism and has won awards for her investigative, politics and breaking news reporting.
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