With temperatures in Wilmington hovering near 70 Thursday afternoon, it was hard to imagine that ice-covered roads and power lines are expected Friday. Although only rain is in the forecast for Thursday night, conditions are predicted to change to ice by Friday morning, as a blast of arctic air roars into Southeastern North Carolina.
“Ice accumulations will make traveling extremely hazardous if not impossible,” according to a statement from the National Weather Service.
The statement said downed trees, power outages and hazardous travel are expected, and the frigid air behind the front could lead to extended periods of power losses.
While it can take a significant amount of snow to disrupt travel, Duke Energy officials said that a mere quarter inch of ice can wreak havoc on power lines. At least a third of an inch is forecast in the Wilmington area.
Duke Energy officials said that although ice can build up on power lines and cause them to fall, most winter-related power failures occur when ice-covered trees and branches fall on lines.
“We are closely watching the forecast for this storm, specifically the type and amount of precipitation,” said Jeff Brooks, a Duke Energy spokesperson. “With winter storms, ice is the biggest culprit.”
Brooks said that ongoing improvements to the power grid and tree management have made the power grid more resilient.
Duke said the wintry precipitation could cause an estimated 750,000 customers in the Carolinas to lose power and that outages in hard-hit areas could last several days. It has staged more than 10,000 workers across the Carolinas – including 2,500 in coastal regions – to respond to the storm, with about 4,000 of the workers coming from other states.
Although the weather outside was still mild, a storm already was brewing inside local grocery stores early Thursday afternoon. At the Mayfaire Harris Teeter, the parking lot was packed and shoppers were waiting in long lines reminiscent of hurricane preparation. Even though the store was full of customers, the shelves appeared to be full also, with plenty of bread and other staples available – at least as of 2 p.m.
Andrew Barksdale, a spokesperson for the N.C. Department of Transportation, said crews were once again spraying salt brine on major roads.
“We put down the brine ahead of last week’s winter storm, but the rain has washed it away,” Barksdale said.
Salt brine lowers the freezing temperature of water to about 18 degrees and prevents snow and ice from bonding with the road's surface, according to the NCDOT.
Barksdale said crews will assess conditions as the storm develops and determine the best way to keep roads passable. He said plows can be used in some areas and sand can be spread to break up the ice and add extra traction for vehicles. The public can access the DOT’s snow clearing policy at this link
Wilmington International Airport offcials advised travelers to contact their airlines for updates. American, Delta and United all had weather alerts posted on their websites Thursday. Several flights Friday morning had been cancelled, according to the airport's online flight schedule
Area school systems canceled in-person classes for Friday, but not all students will get a snow day. New Hanover and Pender schools will switch to remote learning, and officials with both systems said instructions for Friday were sent home with students. Brunswick County Schools, UNCW and Cape Fear and Brunswick community colleges canceled Friday classes.
Wilmington and New Hanover County government offices will be closed Friday.
New Hanover County ABC stores are closing at 8 p.m. Thursday and plan to reopen at 12:30 p.m. Saturday.
Correction: This version corrects Wilmington International Airport's travel information notice on Thursday.