Parts of the Triangle could see up to a foot of snow this weekend

The Triangle is gearing up for a rare early-December snowstorm, potentially ruining weekend plans for holiday parties, shopping and putting up Christmas trees.

The National Weather Service on Friday afternoon issued a winter storm warning for several central North Carolina counties, including Orange, Alamance and Guilford. The weather service also expanded its winter storm watch to include Durham, Wake, Johnston and other counties.

“This storm comes at a time of year where North Carolinians are usually hearing Christmas carols about snow, not actually seeing it,” Gov. Roy Cooper said during a press conference Friday. “But this time the real thing is headed our way.”

Later Friday, Cooper declared a state of emergency ahead of the storm.

While the impact of the storm is still uncertain, the National Weather Service on Friday predicted some parts of Alamance and Orange counties could see up to 12 inches of snow and Durham could see 8 inches. Further east, Raleigh could see 4 to 6 inches of snow.

The precipitation is expected to start as soon as late Saturday and continue into Monday evening.

Snow, sleet and ice could create hazardous driving conditions during that time, according to the weather service.

“Travel is going to be bad,” said Ryan Ellis, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Raleigh.

The expected storm prompted Amtrak to cancel all of its trains in North Carolina on Sunday. This includes all three Piedmont trains between Raleigh and Charlotte and the Carolinian between Charlotte and New York City.

In addition, the northbound Silver Star between Miami and New York, which stops in Raleigh and Cary, is canceled Saturday and Sunday, while the southbound Silver Star is canceled Sunday and Monday.

Cooper urged residents to “be prepared to stay put for a few days when the storm rolls in.”

“It looks like there will be a wide range of snowfall out there,” he said.

In western North Carolina, the storm is expected to drop up to 7 inches of snow and ice on the Charlotte area, according to the National Weather Service.

The Weather Channel’s Jim Cantore on Friday was headed to Asheville, which could see more than a foot of snow, the Charlotte Observer reported.

In the Triangle, crews were treating roads Friday in anticipation of snow and ice.

The weather service predicted Friday that Durham and Orange counties could see 0.05 inch of ice accumulation. Raleigh could see 0.01 inch.

Durham sent five trucks out during the morning hours to spread brine, said Marvin Williams, the city’s Public Works director.

The city has mounted plows and spreaders on more than 30 trucks, and crews will continue their work before and after the storm, Williams said.

But Williams warned that some roads might not be cleared quickly, despite the preparations. It will depend on the type of precipitation and the temperature.

“Snow is much easier to push off the roadway,” Williams said. “Whereas ice, once it gets on pavement and we get really cold temperatures, the ice sticks to the pavement and it is hard to break it off and scrape it off.”

Temperatures in the Triangle are expected to climb into the low- to mid-40s Saturday, with an overnight low of 32. Sunday should be colder, with a high of 35 and an overnight low of 31.

Overnight lows are expected to drop into the 20s starting Monday.

In Raleigh, crews were on standby Friday to treat roads, said spokesman John Boyette.

“We could start those operations at any time depending on the storm,” he said. “We are ready for whatever Mother Nature throws at us.”

There was a sense of urgency in Durham, where many people spent their lunch break Friday stocking up on groceries in hopes of avoiding the rush for bread and milk. Some shoppers at a local Food Lion said they weren’t just worried about the roadways and losing power, but also the possibility of falling trees.

“We have a big tree in front of my mom’s house,” said Ashanta Scarlett, 37, as she unloaded her cart filled with enough supplies to feed her mother, daughter and three nieces and nephews during the storm.

Others said they were ready, especially since they got plenty of storm-preparation practice for hurricanes in September and October.

“It is North Carolina. We are used to it,” said Kim Davis, 28, of Durham. “You could have every season in a week.”

The last winter storm that produced significant snow in the Triangle started on Christmas Day in 2010 and continued the next day, according to the National Weather Service. About 7.1 inches of snow fell during the storm.

Staff writer Richard Stradling contributed to this report.

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Virginia Bridges covers criminal justice in Orange and Durham counties for The Herald-Sun and The News & Observer. She has worked for newspapers for more than 15 years. In 2017, the N.C. Press Association awarded her first place for beat feature reporting. The N.C. State Bar Association awarded her the 2018 Media & Law Award for Best Series.