Snow blanketed Sampson County late Tuesday night and into the morning Wednesday, bringing droves of youngsters free from school to the largest hills near them and prompting state and local officials to do the best they could to clear roads.
As sleds were heading down any number of slopes throughout the county, on roads across Sampson it was an uphill battle. A winter weather advisory remained in effect until noon Thursday, with warnings of black ice that would follow the several inches of snow accumulation — an average of 3-4 inches fell across the county — that covered roads and residential streets Wednesday morning.
On the heels of closures Wednesday, Clinton City Schools, Sampson County Schools and Sampson Community College had yet to make final determinations regarding any cancellations Thursday as of the Independent’s early press time Wednesday afternoon . County officials were expected to gauge Thursday morning whether Sampson government operations would be opening, which was not expected to happen until at least noon Thursday, if at all.
On Wednesday, the N.C. Department of Transportation was working to clear primary roads across Sampson, as City of Clinton crews did the same for parking lots and main travelways across the city. Crews were out until late Tuesday night, however icy conditions prevented crews from making any headway past midnight —the same situation confronted them for much of Wednesday morning.
“We’ve got all our trucks out,” said DOT district engineer Lin Reynolds around noon Wednesday. “After midnight, everything froze up and we couldn’t do anything. We had to wait it out.”
Reynolds said it was DOT’s hope that some of the ice beneath the snow would begin to thaw Wednesday afternoon so it could be scraped from the roads. Work had to be quick, because anything that thawed was expected to quickly freeze up again Wednesday night.
“We’re hitting primaries and interstates right now, then going on to main secondaries,” said Reynolds, who noted DOT was concentrating on I-40 late Wednesday morning. “It’s a slow go.”
A base coat of sleet that preceded the snow did not help matters.
“It sleeted a little longer than what they predicted,” Reynolds noted. “It’s going to take at least two days just to get primaries cleared. We’ll be working on secondaries through Friday I’m sure. We’re just waiting until it thaws and trying to to get everything up. We can move the snow, but when it gets down to the ice, it’s going to be slow.”
The National Weather Service warned of the slick conditions travelers would have to contend with across much of eastern North Carolina, including all of Sampson.
“In the wake of the snowfall Tuesday evening into the early hours Wednesday morning,” the NWS stated, “county officials report that numerous roads, especially secondary roads, are covered with ice and snow, making driving very difficult and dangerous.”
With temperatures struggling to reach near freezing Wednesday afternoon and anticipated to fall into the 20s Wednesday night, what melting did occur Wednesday afternoon would quickly freeze, creating widespread black ice and slippery conditions into Thursday.
“We’re still asking people to stay home if they can and (if they have to drive) to wear seat belts and drive slow,” Reynolds said. “All that standing water will freeze. There will be black ice (Thursday).”
While schools, businesses and many local stores were closed Wednesday, City of Clinton crews were working and Sampson County EMS put additional emergency personnel in service on its quick response vehicles and in the 911 Center. Like DOT, city crews were out in force,
“We’ve got a full crew out and City Hall is open,” Mayor Lew Starling said Wednesday. “Everyone was out (Tuesday) night — the Police Department, the Fire Department, Public Works were all out. Crews were out late last night and finally stopped when it was frigid and too icy.”
However, at 6:30 a.m. Wednesday, crews were back at it. They were able to clear many of the primary streets, including those going to Sampson Regional Medical Center and in and around the downtown.
“We’re back in full force,” Starling said Wednesday morning. “All our equipment and people are out. We’re out and about. We had hoped to run all night, but we had to stop.”
City Hall stayed open Tuesday and was back open Wednesday, and was expected to continue operations the rest of the week.
“We may have a skeleton crew, but we’re there,” Starling said.
He pledged to have regular city operations in operation. While they may be delayed with the snow, they would not be disrupted altogether, the mayor said.
“We’re going to have all the recycling and trash picked up by close of business Saturday,” said Starling. “We’ll be going full steam ahead Friday. We just didn’t think citizens would be able to put their trash and recycling out (by Thursday). We’re going to double up and hit it hard Friday and Saturday. We won’t stop until Saturday night, until the last piece of trash is picked up.”
Starling thanked all the employees for their dedication and the citizens for their patience.
“We don’t have these (weather conditions) that often,” he said, “so we’re doing the best we can do.”
Chris Berendt can be reached at 910-592-8137 ext. 121 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.