The work to clear roadways will extend through the weekend as melting snow and slush was expected to produce icy conditions amid frigid temperatures, prompting highway and transportation officials to urge continued caution from motorists.
N.C. Department of Transportation’s Keith Jackson, maintenance engineer for Sampson County, said Friday afternoon that much of the primary roads had been cleared other than a few trouble spots. Secondary roads were the next target.
“We are almost done with the primaries and will be working until sundown (Friday) to get those finished,” Jackson said of the 245 miles of main thoroughfares that run through Sampson, not including 20 miles of Interstate 40, which has also been cleared.
There are still some trouble spots on a few primary roads, and still about 1,200 miles of secondary roads to contend with, where focus will shift Saturday and into Sunday, Jackson noted. Conditions were still bad south and east of Clinton on Friday evening, two days after the snow coated Sampson, Duplin and many other counties. Jackson said six motor graders and 13 trucks would be utilized in tackling the problem in southern Sampson over the weekend.
“All across the county there are problem spots, but it’s bad done there,” he said. “As we suspected, that cold really hardened up that ice, and we just can’t push it. We’ll be at it first thing (Saturday) morning. My initial goal was to be done Saturday, and I don’t know if we’ll be able to do that. Our hopes are that we’re done by Sunday so kids can go back to school.”
With Sampson hit with between 1-3 inches of snow, and Duplin receiving upwards of 4-5 inches in some areas, Jackson still said the fluffy stuff is easier to deal with than the ice that often follows in freezing temperatures. In Ivanhoe and in other sections of southern Sampson roads were still “whited out” on Friday, he said.
“We’ve pushed it and it just won’t budge,” he attested of the hardened snow and ice. “These 10 degree nights and not getting above freezing during the day isn’t helping us, but we’re chipping away at it. Our best blessing is the weather.”
According to the National Weather Service (NWS), a Winter Weather Advisory was to remain in effect until Saturday morning, while a Wind Chill Advisory was similarly in effect through Friday night and into Saturday morning, expected to be extended again through Saturday night.
Temperatures were anticipated to plummet into the single digits Friday night and again dip to around 10 degrees Saturday night, with daytime temperatures around the freezing point through the weekend before warming up Monday. Cold wind chills, according to the NWS, could cause frostbite in as little as 30 minutes to exposed skin.
Local government offices were closed Thurday, with crews working throughout the day to clear roadways, parking lots and sidewalks. City and county government employees returned to work on Friday.
Both Clinton City Schools and Sampson County Schools were closed Friday, with the day optional for the staff in the city. For students in the city, Jan. 19 will now be a regular school day for students and Jan. 20 will be an optional teacher workday. The Jan. 19 day makes up for students missing Thursday, Jan. 4, however the Jan. 5 day will not be made up.
The staff of Sampson Community College, along with Harrells Christian Academy and Mintz Christian Academy, as well as Duplin County Schools and James Sprunt Community College, also played it safe Friday, canceling school for both students and staff.
Highway Patrol officials are urging residents to stay off roads, and when travel is necessary, to drive with extreme caution due to black ice. Reports of cars in ditches continued coming into the dispatch office throughout the day Thursday, but by Friday those calls for service in Sampson had dwindled.
“It’s been quiet today,” Sgt. S.F. Cotton, of the Highway Patrol in Sampson, said Friday. She said troopers noted Ivanhoe as a specific concern, saying those patrolling the southern end of the county said it is “still bad.” Areas close to the Pender line were also still very icy, while areas west and north of Clinton, including Roseboro and north toward Plain View, were clear.
“Calls for service have decreased dramatically,” Cotton said. “There was a spike Thursday morning, but by lunchtime, calls had dropped.”
Most of the wrecks the Highway Patrol responded to were of the single-vehicle variety, where a vehicle slid off the road into a ditch.
“We haven’t had anything major — no major collisions, no serious injuries, thankfully,” she said Friday. “Hopefully that will continue. We just want people to watch their speed and try to stay home if they are around roads that are still bad.”
Statewide, Governor Roy Cooper said road conditions on major interstates and highways across North Carolina were greatly improved Friday as DOT crews turned their attention to clearing secondary roads.
“Last night was a quieter one for troopers on our highways,” Cooper stated Friday. “It appears that many people heeded the warnings and stayed off the roads, and there were far fewer collisions. But very cold temperatures remain along with icy spots on many secondary roads and neighborhood streets, so we need to keep our guard up.”
In less than 48 hours, Highway Patrol troopers responded to more than 2,000 calls for service and 1,270 collisions. Four traffic deaths were attributed to the winter storm, including one in Surf City, two in Moore County and another in Beaufort.
Power outages peaked at more than 20,000 Thursday morning during the storm. As of 2 p.m. Friday, there were about 1,200 homes and businesses without power statewide, mostly in Wake County.
A state of emergency that Cooper signed Wednesday will remain in effect through the weekend, along with an executive order waiving truck weight, size and hours of service restrictions to ease movement of heating fuel, supplies and equipment and to allow restoration of utility services.
In Sampson, Jackson expressed his thanks to the DOT crews working long hours in the cold to clear roadways.
“Now that we have primary roads done — other than those few spots — every effort will be made on those secondary roads,” he remarked, praising the crews working 14 to 15 hour days, and their families for their understanding. “It’s a great group of guys and they’re giving it everything they’ve got.”
Reach Managing Editor Chris Berendt at 910-249-4616. Follow the paper on twitter @SampsonInd and like us on Facebook.