Sleet, Ice Move In
Up to half an inch of ice was expected to coat the Charlotte region by Tuesday morning, making for a treacherous morning commute.
The weather system threatened to cause widespread power outages, and has disrupted traffic, businesses and schools from the North Carolina mountains to Upstate South Carolina.
Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools will be closed Tuesday.
Precipitation began falling in uptown Charlotte around 3 p.m., then transitioned to sleet and ice during the evening hours. Light freezing rain was falling on the city by 7:30 p.m. Monday, with light snow in northern Mecklenburg County.
Roads had been treated days in advance, but forecasters and city officials urged residents to avoid the roads.
Around 8 p.m., as ice began to accumulate, first responders were at the scene of more than 80 traffic collisions in Mecklenburg, many of them related to slick roads and icy conditions. One wreck, near where Interstate 85 South meets Interstate 485 in the southern part of the county, resulted in I-85 being closed for nearly two hours.
“They’re reporting spotty ice across all of the interstates in Mecklenburg County,” said Jordan-Ashley Walker, spokeswoman for the N.C. Department of Transportation. “We’ve had rain mixed in with some kind of sleet and ice and that’s all on the road.”
Charlotte Douglas International Airport had 475 flights headed into or out of the airport canceled Monday, according to flightaware.com.
Here are the answers to your most pressing winter weather questions.
Tuesday morning conditions
Icy roads will be the main concern for morning driving. The area could also be dealing with power outages.
“The roads will be pretty treacherous, especially on bridges and overpasses,” meteorologist Andrew Kimball said.
The roads will be especially slick during the morning hours, but some of the ice should melt in the afternoon, when temperatures reach the low 40s.
At 1 p.m. snow had reached the North Carolina mountains, with Franklin seeing snow starting at about noon, said Doug Outlaw a meteorologists with the National Weather Service.
In Charlotte the wintry precipitation transitioned quickly to sleet and freezing rain.
The freezing rain was expected to fall until about 3 or 4 a.m. Tuesday.
The weather service said it expects 0.3 to 0.5 inch of ice in Charlotte overnight, increasing its previous estimate, and up to a half-inch of sleet.
A winter storm warming for the entire metro area is in effect through 7 a.m. Tuesday.
More than a quarter-inch of ice can cause power outages if it builds up on trees and power lines, meteorologists said.
“When you’re heading up toward half an inch, you might see more power outages,” Kimball said.
A memorable storm that froze Charlotte in December 2002 accumulated up to three-quarters of an inch of ice. It left 1.4 million Duke Energy customers without power.
Northern Mecklenburg was expected to get less than an inch of snow and communities in the southern parts of the county like Pineville and Matthews were expected to get “not much snow at all,” Outlaw said.
Duke Energy brought 260 line workers from Florida to South Carolina on Monday. Duke might bring in more crews from its territory in the Midwest if that region isn’t hit hard.
Cities, counties and governors of both North Carolina and South Carolina issued emergency declarations that let officials restrict movement, raid budgets to pay overtime, regulate prices for key commodities and send out the National Guard, if needed.
Partly sunny skies are forecast for Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, although it will remain cold.
“The problem is if everything doesn’t dry out and then you refreeze … you could have problems,” meteorologist John Tomko said.
Thursday’s high is forecast to be only 24 degrees, with a low of 9 degrees, said Kimball. Friday’s low is expected around 8, with a high of 31.
“We’re still forecasting a near-record low on Thursday morning and possibly dangerous wind chills, especially in the mountains,” said Kimball. “In Charlotte, the wind chills will get below zero.”
Charlotte Observer staff writer Bruce Henderson contributed.