A rare early-December snowstorm forecast for overnight and into Sunday disrupted life in the Triangle as residents made last-minute preparations and canceled normal weekend activities.
Raleigh is likely to see 4 to 6 inches of snow, but parts of Raleigh could get up to 9 inches of snow, according to the National Weather Service.
Durham and Chapel Hill could see as much as 8 inches to 1 foot, and accumulation could reach 17 inches of snow in parts of Winston-Salem.
“This is going to be a snowstorm, not a snowfall,” Gov. Roy Cooper said at a press conference in Raleigh. “We’re preparing for days of impact, not hours.”
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The National Weather Service warned on Saturday that the central part of the state, including the Triangle, is “the area with the greatest forecast uncertainty due to the potential for multiple precipitation-types, beginning as snow, then mixing with and changing to freezing rain Sunday.”
Duke Energy anticipates as many as 500,000 power outages across the state, Cooper said. The utility company is bringing in 1,500 utility workers from other states to help.
“It doesn’t take much to bring down limbs and trees, especially after wet snow and ice,” Cooper said.
With the forecast constantly being updated, the N.C. Department of Transportation extended anti-icing operations east of I-95 as the storm shifted direction and threatened to strike more of the state than initially expected.
Advocates for the homeless fanned out to urge people living in the streets and encampments to seek indoor shelter or risk frostbite or possible death.
The Durham Rescue Mission sent out three teams, persuading six men to take refuge at the mission’s shelter, and reported that another man arrived Saturday morning. The organization, staffed by formerly homeless people, planned to search for more homeless people on Saturday night as the storm approached.
Cooper said at the press conference that residents in the Piedmont area and in Charlotte are taking the storm seriously but warned that residents of the Triangle and farther east may not realize that they are in the storm’s path.
Cooper and other state officials warned people to avoid driving, not only for their safety but also to keep roads clear for utility work crews, first responders and other emergency vehicles.
“Travel is likely to be very difficult Sunday and Sunday night,” the National Weather Service warned. “Even in locations with lesser snow accumulations, the potential for accumulations of snow and freezing rain combined will impact travel. Downed trees and limbs may create significant power outages additional travel hazards.”
Snowfall was predicted to start after midnight in central North Carolina, reaching the Triangle between 3 and 5 a.m. Sunday.
The winter storm warning is in effect from 1 a.m. Sunday to 7 p.m. Monday.
The forecast indicates a mess for commuters on Monday, but few school and office closings had been announced as of Saturday in the Triangle.
Here are the latest forecasts from the National Weather Service:
Locations between I-95 and I-85, this includes the Triangle, Southern Pines, and surrounding areas: Snow was expected late Saturday and early Sunday, gradually transitioning to freezing rain and rain Sunday afternoon. At least 2 to 4 inches of snow in most locations, followed by up to a quarter inch of ice is possible. Gusty winds of 25-35 mph could result in downed trees and power lines producing power outages.
Along and north of the I-85 corridor, including the Triad region and Roxboro: This region had the best chance for mostly snow and for the greatest snow amounts late Saturday and Sunday. Snow may accumulate more than 8 inches. Gusty winds of 25-30 mph and snow/ice accumulation could result in downed trees and power lines, and prolonged power outages.
I-95 Corridor Fayetteville to Rocky Mount: Mostly rain was expected after potentially beginning as snow and sleet late Saturday and early Sunday. An inch of snow possible before the change to rain Sunday morning. All rain was expected Sunday afternoon and night.
Before the power goes out
The town of Chapel Hill offered these safety tips Saturday to prepare for possible power loss
▪ Add warm clothes to an emergency kit, check flashlight and radio batteries, charge (and keep charged) mobile devices, fill car fuel tank, get emergency cash (ATMs may not work in a power outage).
▪ Dress warmly for the cold. Wear multiple layers of thin clothing instead of a single layer of thick clothing.
▪ Only use generators in open areas away from windows and home to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning. Do not burn charcoal indoors. Keep alternative heating sources and fire extinguishers on hand. Be sure your family knows how to use them.
▪ Bring pets/animals inside and make sure their drinking water is not ice.
▪ Always keep at least a three-day supply of water and non-perishable food in your home.
If the power goes out
▪ Duke Power: 800-769-3766. Duke customers may also receive text notifications for power outages in their area. Text REG to 57801 for text alerts.
▪ Piedmont Electric: Main Office 800-449-2667 or Report Outage 800-222-3107
▪ PSNC: 877-776-2427 (Signs of a gas leak)