Local offices announced Wednesday closures as road crews loaded trucks with salt Tuesday in preparation for a winter weather event expected to blanket Sampson and surrounding counties with at least half a foot of snow.
Sampson County Schools, Clinton City Schools and Sampson Community College were all closed Tuesday and announced additional closures for Wednesday. Sampson County government offices closed at noon Tuesday and staff were not anticipated to return until at least noon Thursday, while City of Clinton offices stayed open Tuesday with administration staff continuing to monitor the situation.
That situation was anticipated to be 5-8 inches of snow in this area before the morning.
A winter storm warning was in effect in central and eastern North Carolina, including Sampson, until 9 a.m. Wednesday. The National Weather Service (NWS) said the frozen precipitation was expected to begin Tuesday afternoon and continue into Wednesday.
N.C. Department of Transportation crews laid down brine on interstates, highways, roads, bridges and overpasses in regions expected to be affected by the wintry weather. District engineer Lin Reynolds said his crews worked all day Monday to brine roads in Sampson and Duplin counties.
“We’re prepping for the snow now,” Reynolds said early Tuesday. “They’re calling for snow at 2 p.m. (Tuesday) and getting heavy around 4 p.m. with it expected to keep snowing until 8 a.m.”
Reynolds said 45,000 gallons of salt brine was put on roadways Monday, which took 200 tons of salt to make. Salt brine is a salt and water solution that is 23 percent salt and keeps the ice from bonding to the road. Additionally, eight trucks were equipped with salt spreaders and loaded down with more than 60 tons of salt Tuesday morning to begin treating roads when needed.
“We’re at the heart of the area expected to get 5-8 inches,” Reynolds commented. “We’ll probably get it pretty good. We’ll wait for it to start sticking. After a couple inches, the brine can’t keep up. We’ll have to start clearing. Eight inches is not that big a deal if it’s powdery snow. That’s not bad at all. Freezing rain and ice, like Wilmington might get, is rough.”
City of Clinton manager Shawn Purvis cited the same expected accumulation figures and said, like DOT, city road crews had already put down a base coat of salt brine and would try to clear “critical roads” once snow began to collect on streets.
“We’ve already brined the roads,” said Purvis. “The heaviest snowfall won’t be until late (Tuesday night). Public Works will clear (streets) for a little while, from 5-6 p.m. after work, as much as possible. We’ll do some clearing tonight, but I don’t want our guys out there if it’s snowing constantly.”
According to the NWS, snow was expected to develop between noon and 2 p.m., with heaviest snow expected to occur between 5 p.m. Tuesday and 2 a.m. Wednesday.
“We’re supposed to get the heaviest snow between 5 tonight and 1 a.m.,” said Purvis. “We may get an inch an hour. We’ll make sure we (clear) the main arteries. We’re going to try to make sure everyone can get home through rush hour (Tuesday evening).”
According to meteorologists, this storm is atypical. The outlook for snow is almost opposite the traditional northwest-to-southeast pattern. Instead of the precipitation moving along with the cold front, it was developing offshore with moisture pushing inland. The heaviest snowfall is not expected in the mountains, as usual, but in the eastern part of the state.
Up to 5 inches of snow was expected in the central part of the state. Up to a foot of snow was possible around Elizabeth City, with up to 10 inches expected in the Greenville area, as well as the northern Outer Banks. From 5 to 8 inches is possible in other parts of eastern North Carolina, including Sampson County.
According to the NWS, isolated amounts of 8 inches of snow may occur east of I-95 if the precipitation remains all snow. A longer period of a snow-sleet mixture may limit the potential for significant snow accumulations.
Assistant county manager Susan Holder, who serves as the county’s public information officer, said the expected snow conditions given during a Tuesday morning conference call with the State Emergency Operations Center were enough to proceed with closures.
“Based upon this most updated information, and to ensure the safety of our employees and our clients, the county plans to close today at noon,” Holder said Tuesday morning. “We will remain closed tomorrow (Wednesday). We anticipate opening by noon on Thursday, but the final decision on Thursday hours will not be confirmed until 9 a.m. on Thursday.”
EMS has placed two additional ambulances in service, a process done by adding personnel to the existing QRV (quick response vehicle) staff to allow for ambulatory status. Emergency officials will also bring in additional staffing for the 911 Center.
“At this point, there is no plan to open shelters, however, our Shelter Control Group is on standby should we need to make sheltering decisions for unusual needs during the storm,” said Holder.
City of Clinton offices stayed open Tuesday. Purvis said that any closures for city government offices for Wednesday were up in the air as of Tuesday morning, with local department heads expected to meet later Tuesday to gauge conditions.
The NWS said hazardous travel conditions were expected later Tuesday afternoon and moreso Tuesday night as snow begins to accumulate on area roads, to include major roadways in Sampson such as I-40, U.S. 701 and U.S. 421. Even after the snow has finished, hazardous conditions will likely persist well into Wednesday as temperatures struggle to reach freezing. Residual snow and ice could continue to affect motorists into Thursday.
Reynolds implored those locally to avoid unnecessary travel. He said motor graders will be available for DOT use, along with a number of other state personnel and resources should they be needed, but urged motorists to stay off roads if they could.
“Right now, we’re just waiting,” said Reynolds, whose department was bracing for the inevitability of a hard snow. “I would like to encourage the traveling public to stay off roads until it is cleared. It will be treacherous conditions out there.”
Chris Berendt can be reached at 910-592-8137 ext. 121 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.