Department of Transportation workers were called in Monday to begin prepping local roads for a winter storm expected to hit the Sampson County area late Wednesday.
According to the National Weather Service, Sampson County has a 50 percent chance of getting snow after 1 p.m., with accumulation of less than half an inch. The snow will continue into the early morning hours of Thursday, with total accumulation of one to three inches possible.
Over the last few days, temperatures have hovered in the mid to low 30s, making treating the roads with salt brine a tricky job. According to Keith Jackson, highway maintenance engineer for NCDOT in Sampson County, the ground temperature must be at least 28 degrees before his guys can begin treating the roads and preparing them for the impending hazardous weather.
Those concerns mean roads crews will be busy in the meanwhile. Brine equipment was placed on trucks Monday and the crews began treating roads in the afternoon. Tuesday morning, while they were waiting for the ground temperature to rise, Jackson said crews were beginning to put plows onto the trucks.
“We’re in the process of brining all of the primary routes and I-40 from county line to county line,” Jackson said Tuesday about preparing the roads with a salt-water mixture.
A Winter Storm Watch will go into effect Wednesday at 4 p.m. for much of the state’s eastern counties, including Sampson. The watch will remain in effect through Thursday morning and cautions those areas of possible snow and freezing rain. Counties along the I-95 corridor and east are expected to see snow. Cities like Kinston and Elizabeth City could see up to four inches.
A weather storm watch warns of the chance for significant snow, with total accumulations of one to three inches possible, as well as a chance of sleet or ice and all could impact travel. The watch covered portions of central North Carolina, mainly east of I-95.
During the time period, Jackson is urging motorists who have to travel to take precautions. After the storm, he also cautioned about freeze-thaw cycles in the upcoming days, which will produce black ice problems.
“Certainly at night time, it’s a little more treacherous because it colder,” he said. “I’m well aware that some folks, emergency personnel and first responders have to travel. So we want to do the very best we can to help them.
“But I would hope that folks who do not have to travel, would stay home and enjoy some time with the family, kids or whatever they do during snow,” Jackson said.
The Highway Patrol has stated there will be adequate manpower on the roads, checking for stranded motorists and those who are not abiding safe travel in the dangerous conditions.
At press time Tuesday, educational leaders had not been able to make a decision about schools on Wednesday and Thursday, but said they were closely monitoring the weather and in communication with each other.
Dr. Stuart Blount, superintendent for Clinton City Schools, said he didn’t delay school Tuesday because his buses were all in working order, and the temperature between 6 a.m. and 8 a.m. didn’t change, therefore it was more about getting kids to warm places and having them a good breakfast.
“We don’t serve breakfast on days that school is delayed, and I wanted to make sure all of our students had the opportunity to start the day off right with a full stomach,” Blount said. “My schools all had heat, so I knew the kids would be safe, warm and fed.”
As for Wednesday and Thursday, Blount said no decision had been made, but he and his administrators would continue to monitor the weather and make a decision that is best for the students.
Sampson County superintendent Dr. Eric Bracy made the decision Monday to delay the start of school by two hours because of heating issues at a couple of schools, as well as the fact that buses had not been used in two weeks.
“I wanted to make sure they were ready to roll on this cold morning,” Bracy explained. “I also wanted to give Mark Hammond and our maintenance staff an opportunity to make sure that all of our heating systems were operating at full capacity.”
There were the minor heating issues at a couple of schools that have been repaired.
“We are always concerned about our students at the bus stops on bitter cold mornings, like today,” Bracy said. “The wind chill this morning was in single digits.”
Like Blount, Bracy hasn’t made a decision about Wednesday or Thursday, but indicated his staff are continuing to monitor the weather, and teachers took an opportunity Tuesday to talk with the students about dressing warm.
Reach Kristy D. Carter at 910-592-8137, ext. 2588. follow us on Twitter at @SampsonInd. Like us on Facebook.