CHARLOTTE – Winter is taking one more shot at North Carolina.
While the core of the system that brought snow, sleet and freezing rain to the state heads north toward Virginia on Thursday, parts of it were expected to dump even more snow on the state.
“The first big batch of precipitation will be winding down a little bit around sunrise, but that won’t be the last of it,” said Jonathan Blaes, meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Raleigh.
“What we often call the wraparound of potentially heavy precipitation will sweep through the state, especially the Piedmont and foothills,” Blaes said.
A winter storm warning remained in effect in the mountains and central part of the state. Up to 3 inches of snow were expected in the southern mountains, with as much as 10 inches possible around Boone.
Up to 5 inches of snow was expected from Winston-Salem to Raleigh.
Freezing rain was expected in southeastern North Carolina.
When the brunt of the storm finally reached the state, it brought traffic to a virtual standstill in the Research Triangle area, and coated much of the rest of the state with snow.
At least two people died in accidents authorities described as weather-related.
Icy conditions on hilly terrain closed I-40 in McDowell County, east of the mountain city of Asheville, Wednesday night and temporarily closed Interstate 85 in Durham County, trapping an unknown number of motorists in their vehicles, state Transportation Department spokeswoman Nicole Meister said.
“If they can’t get a lot of momentum on inclines, they just can’t get up it,” she said.
The storm had been forecast well in advance. Still, within an hour of the first flakes falling, main arteries in the state’s urban centers turned into skating rinks snarled by motorists trying to get home.
Traffic cameras in Charlotte and Raleigh showed traffic backed up for miles, recalling the mass paralysis that struck Atlanta two weeks ago. Commutes that should have taken minutes took hours.
Many were comparing the winter weather to a 2005 storm in Raleigh that led to a city-wide gridlock, children stranded at schools and power outages lasting more than a week.
This time, roads appeared to be nearly clear by nightfall.
State Emergency Management Director Mike Sprayberry said transportation crews, Highway Patrol troopers and even National Guard Humvees were answering calls from stranded motorists, but there was no way to estimate how many were stuck in vehicles.
The storm was severe enough to force postponement of the showdown between archrivals Duke and North Carolina after the Blue Devils’ bus wasn’t able to get to the Durham campus to pick up the team for the 11-mile drive from Durham to Chapel Hill.
Emergency shelters opened statewide. A suburban mall in Durham announced it would stay open for stranded motorists coming from nearby Interstate 40.
There were reports of two fatalities.
Breanna Lynn Tile, 23, died in Moore County on Tuesday when a car she was riding in struck a tree.
Another woman died Wednesday in a head-on collision in Chatham County. Her name wasn’t immediately made public while next-of-kin were notified.
A state Highway Patrol trooper also was hospitalized after his parked cruiser was struck by another car.
Gov. Pat McCrory signed advance orders declaring an emergency, freeing state resources to react. The governor urged residents to prepare for power outages by plugging in cellphones and finding batteries for radios and flashlights.
McCrory also urged people to get home and stay off slick roads.
“Stay smart. Don’t put your stupid hat on at this point in time. Protect yourself,” McCrory said.
Utilities reported more than 83,000 power outages statewide Thursday. Duke Energy reported the worst problems were in the Raleigh and Wilmington areas.
Duke Energy spokeswoman Meghan Musgrave says the utility has about 3,400 field workers on the ground in North Carolina and South Carolina, including 500 from out of state.
Workers from Florida are in South Carolina, while others from the Midwest will help in North Carolina. Duke has about 715,000 customers in South Carolina and about 3.2 million in North Carolina.
Dain Anderson readied for the possibility of days without electricity. He pushed a cart out of a Lowe’s home improvement store in Durham with batteries, a big flashlight, a bag of sand and a snow shovel.
Anderson is no stranger to snow, having moved to the Triangle from Denver, Colo., years ago. But he remembers well the big ice storm in 2002 and a cold week in the dark.
“It’s pathetic, really,” he joked, after being asked what he thought of how a few inches of snow could paralyze the South. “But I’m not taking any chances this time. I’m getting ready.”
Martha Waggoner and Emery Dalesio contributed from Raleigh, N.C. Michael Biesecker reported from Durham, N.C.