DURHAM, N.C. - Snow and sleet pounded a large swath of the U.S. East Coast Saturday, coating roads with ice and causing hundreds of crashes. Thousands of people lost power, and forecasters warned of blizzard-like conditions from Virginia to parts of the Northeast.
Police investigated several fatal crashes as potentially storm-related, but some of the South’s biggest cities — Atlanta, Charlotte and Raleigh — appeared to avoid the worst of the storm. Authorities praised residents for learning the lessons of past storms that resulted in icy gridlock, where thousands of people were stranded along the interstates. But officials warned that bitter cold would keep roads treacherous well after the snow and sleet stopped.
“If I tell you anything it would be stay home,” North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper said. “Do not go out and drive on the roads unless you absolutely have to.”
Tracing Interstate 85
The storm lingered in northeastern North Carolina and southeastern Virginia, where blizzard conditions were reported. The weather was believed to be responsible for a 20-vehicle pileup on a Connecticut highway, although initial reports indicated there were no serious injuries.
A National Weather Service map showed the snowfall seemed to follow the Interstate 85 corridor through the state, with locations along and north of the highway receiving snow, and areas to the south getting rain and sleet.
Snowfall totals reached up to 10 inches in at least seven North Carolina locations, according to preliminary figures from the National Weather Service. A foot of snow fell in parts of eastern Virginia, and a blizzard warning was issued for the cities along the coast, the weather service said.
North Carolina reported more than 700 crashes, while Virginia State Police said they responded to 500 crashes. Parts of three interstates in Mississippi were gridlocked by icy conditions. Hundreds of flights were canceled, from Atlanta to airports farther north.
At least 3 storm deaths
At least three deaths are being blamed on the weather. In Kentucky, a man was killed when his pickup went off a snow-slickened Kentucky road Thursday. In Georgia, a 20-year-old Georgia State University student was killed after his SUV crashed on Interstate 75 in Monroe County. Virginia State Police say slick roads caused a man’s SUV to run off the road and overturn in a creek, killing him. Motorist deaths in North Carolina and Maryland as the storm blew in were also being investigated to see if they were caused by the weather.
North Carolina power outages peaked around 25,000, according to the governor, but power company figures indicate the number had dropped to several thousand by late Saturday.
In Cornelius, north of Charlotte, Matt Thomas said he used a ruler to measure nearly 6 inches of snow and sleet that had piled up on the back of his truck. He planned to spend the weekend enjoying the snow and watching television. A plow passed through his neighborhood, but the road still looked slippery.
The unpredictable storm left some areas with much different outcomes than neighboring counties. Unofficial totals from the National Weather Service showed that much of Raleigh and Charlotte had 2 inches or less of precipitation — much of it sleet — while areas to the north of both cities got several inches of snow.
In Atlanta and parts of Georgia, people who were expecting a couple of inches of snow instead woke up to a thin coat of ice. The National Weather Service was issuing an advisory warning northern Georgia to brace for bitterly cold air and strong wind.
Carolina coast disappointed
Along the Outer Banks in North Carolina, snow wasn’t a problem, but high winds including 60 mph gusts forced the cancellation of ferry service.
“There are quite a few disappointed residents here who were hoping to see a few inches of snow on the sand, maybe take a ride on their bodyboards down Jockey’s Ridge,” said Sam Walker III, news director for Max Radio and the Outer Banks Voice. “Instead, it’s just been another typical, windy, wet and cold nor’easter on the Outer Banks.”
Some took to social media to complain that they didn’t have anything to sled in, prompting an apologetic Tweet from one well-known Raleigh weatherman.
“To all my detractors, more than 24 hours ago I began talking about how this snow event could go up in smoke. I try to be honest-all I can do,” WRAL-TV chief meteorologist Greg Fishel said early Saturday.
The men’s basketball game between the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and N.C. State University was postponed until Sunday because of concerns about hazardous driving conditions. In Portland, Oregon, an NBA game between the Trail Blazers and the Detroit Pistons scheduled for Saturday was postponed until Sunday because of the potential for severe winter weather.
Some just can't stay home
Even with snow coating Virginia Beach roads, diners and staff made it to the popular breakfast spot Citrus.
“When there’s bad weather, people come out,” manager Tara Junke said. “I’ve worked in restaurants for 20 years in Hampton Roads and we’ve never shut down for snow.”
Chris Turner, 58, a health care analyst sitting at the counter with a mug of tea, said he drove 7 miles to his usual breakfast spot, aided by four-wheel drive.
“I’d rather be out,” he said. “I can’t stay at home.”
Out west, rain on top of heavy snowpack led to flooding in Nevada. Rains in California raised the prospect of mudslides, while snow, freezing rain and strong winds plagued Utah.