RALEIGH — Thousands shivered in below-freezing cold Saturday as homes and businesses were cut off from electricity and stiff winds threatened to extend the power outages by toppling trees and electrical lines.
Motorists were warned to stay off roads coated with invisible sheets of ice after troopers responded to more than 2,000 crashes since icy conditions moved in on Wednesday, causing six traffic deaths.
“I can tell you the road conditions are treacherous,” State Highway Patrol Col. William Grey said.
The National Weather Service warned winds could rev up to 30 mph or more into Saturday evening across most of central and eastern North Carolina, an area where power outages were concentrated and more icy sleet was expected. The sustained strong winds threatened to rip down ice-coated power lines and expand the power problem.
In Robeson County, Roads were mostly clear across the county, with some snow sticking to lawns and cars. Freezing rain on Friday left two-tenths of an inch of ice in the St. Pauls area, with about one-tenth of an inch in Red Springs, according to the National Weather Service.
Although it left little ice and snow in its path, the winter storm knocked out power for thousands of Robeson County residents on Friday afternoon, mostly in the northern and western parts of the county. By Saturday evening, about 500 Duke Energy customers in Robeson County were still without electricity. The utility was estimating power would be restored for those customers by 11: 45 tonight.
Statewide, Duke Energy, the state’s dominant power provider, reported nearly 100,000 homes and business were without power Saturday afternoon, down from more than 130,000 earlier in the day. The state’s electric cooperatives reported more than 8,000 outages. The outages appeared to be concentrated near Raleigh in Wake, Harnett, Johnston, Moore and Nash counties. The Red Cross was operating shelters through Sunday morning in Moore, Johnston, Wake, and Nash counties.
By Saturday evening, Amy Martin, her husband and their cat had been without power in their Clayton home for about 24 hours. They turned to the gas fireplace in the living room for warmth and pulled out camping gear to cook.
“We are cooking chili right now, as a matter of fact, on the camp stove in the garage,” she said as generators hummed in yards throughout their subdivision.
Gale warnings were in effect through Sunday morning along the North Carolina coast. Battering winds and rough seas of six to nine feet were expected for the south-facing beaches on North Carolina’s coast between Morehead City and the South Carolina border into early Sunday. The northbound low-pressure system was expected to begin diminishing along the South Carolina coast late Saturday. Intermittent rain and light snow were expected for coastal communities in both states.
Mountain communities that had already seen around a foot of snow could get another five inches Saturday, forecasters said.
Sunny skies were expected Sunday to replace Saturday’s cold and clouds. Forecasts for Robeson County are calling for a high of 41 degrees today. The warming trend will continue through the start of the week, with a high of 52 on Monday and a high of 63 on Tuesday.
“The good news is the sun’s coming out tomorrow,” Gov. Pat McCrory said.
McCrory urged basketball-crazy fans against attending Saturday’s rivalry game between Duke University and North Carolina State University in Raleigh and watch on TV at home instead. The Atlantic Coast Conference and the schools decided to play the game because officials and athletes were already there, conference spokeswoman Amy Yakola said. There was a healthy fan turnout nonetheless.
Gale warnings were in effect through Sunday morning along the North Carolina coast as an intensifying low-pressure system was expected to pack steady winds of about 30 mph and more powerful gusts, the National Weather Service said.
Only a handful of flights were expected to take off from Raleigh-Durham International Airport, but American Airlines’ second-busiest hub in Charlotte was back in business. American Airlines expected about 200 arrivals and departures at Charlotte Saturday and to cancel another 400 as the carrier moved planes into the hub so that they’re ready as conditions improved Sunday, spokesman Kent Powell said.
The sixth person to die since snow and ice started coating the state’s roads on Wednesday was Madeline Paige Scalf, 19, of High Point, state troopers said. She lost control of her car and hit a tree in Hickory on Friday morning, State Highway Patrol spokesman Sgt. Michael Baker said Saturday. Motorists also have died in separate wrecks since Wednesday in Iredell, Johnston, Wilkes, Forsyth and Stokes counties.
Associated Press writer Aaron Beard contributed to this story.