Road crews and utility companies are hurrying preparations Friday afternoon in advance of an approaching winter storm that threatens to bring heavy snow, dangerous sleet and possibly an ice storm to the Charlotte metro region.
Winter storm warnings are posted for most of the area, from this evening until Saturday evening.
Precipitation is expected to begin about 7 p.m. in the immediate Charlotte area, but temperatures will still be above freezing at that time, and it will be overnight before problems begin, say meteorologists.
Only Lancaster and Chesterfield counties are not covered by the warning. They are under a winter storm watch, but that likely will be changed to a warning later today.
At 1:30 p.m. Friday, precipitation had moved into northern Georgia and eastern Tennessee, although the heavier snow and sleet was farther to the west. Sleet and freezing rain were causing major travel problems in Nashville and Memphis. The winter storm headed for the Carolinas is the same system responsible for dumping heavy sleet and freezing rain in Oklahoma, northern Texas and Arkansas on Thursday.
In advance of the storm, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools announced that their facilities will be closed this weekend — which means the cancelation of recreational basketball league games in CMS school gyms.
Forecasters expect heavy snow for northern parts of the Charlotte metro region, but they aren’t sure what type of wintry precipitation will fall closer to Charlotte — and the ramifications make a big difference.
However, indications are growing Friday afternoon that the precipitation in Charlotte itself will be more in the form of snow, rather than sleet. The chance of freezing rain is diminishing.
Forecasters say they think mostly snow will fall north of Interstate 85, especially from Lake Norman northward. A mix of snow and sleet is expected in the immediate Charlotte area, with between 2 and 5 inches accumulating. Mostly sleet will fall in a corridor across northern York and Lancaster counties and central Union and Anson counties, forecasters say.
The worst danger from freezing rain, according to meteorologists, will be in a band from Chester County northeastward across southern York and Lancaster counties, possibly extreme southern Union County, and southern Anson and Richmond counties. Power outages are possible in that area.
Earlier, forecasters said the amount of precipitation might be limited if heavy thunderstorms form along the Gulf Coast, robbing the system of moisture in the Carolinas. But the storm system now is predicted to remain inland. That means large amounts of precipitation will flow into the Carolinas.
Between 8 and 12 inches of snow are expected for the Interstate 40 corridor, for Statesville and Hickory. But 6 inches or more also could fall in the Lake Norman area.
Road and utility company crews began preparing Thursday for all possibilities and are still at work today. State crews spread brine — a mix of salt and water — on state and federal routes Thursday afternoon and evening.
“We began our work yesterday, because we have 140 lane miles to treat,” said Jen Thompson, of the N.C. Department of Transportation in Mecklenburg County. “Today, our crews are working on Interstates 77 and 85, and on bridges.”
Charlotte road officials are treating the roads today with brine and are going on full alert at 7 p.m., said Ken Miller, of the Charlotte Department of Transportation.
“Our crews will work straight through until Sunday evening, if needed,” Miller said.
Dara Demi, a spokeswoman for the N.C. DOT, said crews in the western part of the state won’t even worry about brine, since heavy snow is expected there. So will will battle the storm with plows, she said. Demi said brine is being spread on highways in the eastern part of the state.
Crews in other Piedmont cities were doing the same thing. In Hickory, for example, workers spread 2,000 gallons of brine on streets. It was the similar story in Concord and Gastonia.
Meanwhile, crews from Duke Energy and the region’s electric cooperatives went on full alert, ready to deal with power outages if large amounts of freezing rain fall.
And Medic, Mecklenburg County’s emergency medical service, is putting extra crews on duty to deal with the possibility of weather-caused wrecks.
Kristin Young, a spokeswoman for Medic, said the best solution Saturday might be to stay home.
“If the winter weather does affect the county, Medic is encouraging the community to stay home and stay off the roads until the winter storm passes and roads are eventually cleared,” Young said.
The N.C. DOT’s Jen Thompson said the same thing.
“Our recommendation is to stay home and watch the snow,” she said.
Precipitation is expected to taper off Saturday afternoon, but it will be followed by cold air. Temperatures will tumble into the teens Sunday morning, causing the sleet and snow to refreeze. And Monday morning’s lows could be near 10 degrees in some places.