WNC snow storm updates: Snow brings widespread outages to area
An epic winter storm that dumped heavy snow and ice on Saturday and Sunday — up to 18 inches in some parts of Western North Carolina — left tens of thousands of people without power, snarled traffic and resulted in dozens of cancellations for Monday.
At midday Sunday, more than 76,000 Duke Energy customers were without electricity in WNC, and Duke Energy had some 9,000 workers out in the Carolinas to restore power.
Duke spokesman Bill Norton said outages would likely increase throughout Sunday as snow accumulated and more trees fell. The hardest hit counties in North Carolina were Buncombe, Haywood, Henderson, Jackson, Macon, Polk, Rutherford, Transylvania, Mecklenburg and Wake counties.
Statewide, Duke had a peak of just over 201,000 customers without power, with another 70,000 in South Carolina in the dark. The utility had restored power to 80,000 customers as of midday.
"We peaked at just over 20,000 for Buncombe alone earlier today but are making good progress — down to 18,600 now," Norton said at 2:45 p.m. Sunday, adding that the total for North Carolina outages at that time was 201,000.
11 inches at the airport
Winter Storm Diego dumped icy moisture collected from the Gulf of Mexico.
About 11 inches fell in Asheville and 10 inches in Arden, according to a National Weather Service tally as of 7 a.m. Sunday. The small town of Saluda in Polk County took the prize for most snow, with 18.5 inches.
It didn't take long on Sunday for schools around WNC to start canceling Monday classes.
The mountains were to see a lull in precipitation through about midnight Sunday, but more wintry mix was on tap for Monday.
Junior Bonilla and Elizabeth Pietzsch help push JJ Thompson out of the snow in West Asheville Dec. 9, 2018. It was the third vehicle Bonilla helped dig out of the snow. The Citizen-Times
"We're looking at some more lingering moisture to stick around the mountains late (Sunday night) into Monday morning, with some probably very light snow," said Lauren Carroll, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service. "It may be a wintry mix. We're not anticipating a lot of additional snow — maybe 1-2 inches in lower elevations. In the higher mountains, they may see 3, maybe 4 inches."
The snow should start tapering off around lunchtime Monday and be completely done by about 9 p.m. Monday, Carroll said.
Warmer days and below-freezing nights mean that ice patches could continue to form, though, making some roads treacherous the following morning.
Power may come back slowly
Damage assessors were in the field early Sunday and repair crews began rolling out shortly before 10 a.m. Those personnel had to wait until roads were passable in order to start work.
Norton said some customers would see restoration before midnight Sunday— "while other cases it will take longer" and said some will be "multiday."
“We have restored power to 80,000 customers across the Carolinas since (Saturday) night and early this morning, and outages here in the Asheville area have begun to drop," Norton said. "We’re still assessing the widespread damage locally, so it’s too early to project a restoration date, but repairs are well underway.”
The company will have more information as assessments come in, the spokesman said.
Shelter opens in West Asheville
Buncombe County announced Sunday that an emergency shelter has been opened at Trinity Baptist Church, 216 Shelburne Road in West Asheville. The shelter is jointly staffed by American Red Cross and Buncombe County Health & Human Services. The county noted that only service animals will be permitted.
No fatalities as of midday
Buncombe County Emergency Management Director Jerry VeHaun said that while the storm caused major power outages and slick roads in many areas, no fatalities had been reported statewide as of 1 p.m. Sunday. His colleagues in emergency management held a conference call at that time.
“I think people stayed at home this time,” VeHaun said. “And pretty much everything is closed Monday, so that should help.”
While most major roads were in “fair shape,” VeHaun and his colleagues are still encouraging motorists to stay home unless travel is absolutely necessary. Freezing temperatures overnight, and the prospect of more snow early Monday could make travel treacherous.
“Wait until about Tuesday or Wednesday to re-up on your bread and milk,” VeHaun said.
Jacknifed tractor-trailers in Polk
Gov. Roy Cooper, who declared a state of emergency for North Carolina, urged motorists to stay off the road, noting in a Sunday press release that the State Highway Patrol had responded to 509 crashes and 1,100 calls for service since midnight Saturday.
That included a wreck in Polk County that closed I-26 for a time. The Department of Transportation crews worked with the State Highway Patrol and National Guard to clear tractor trailers that jackknifed on the Saluda Grade on I-26 – closing the interstate for a few hours.
Workers also cleared a wreck that had closed I-40 in Haywood County.
Roads slick in spots
Asheville public works crews cleared roads overnight Saturday, but found it difficult to keep up with new snow on Sunday, said Streets Operations Manager Jerry Yates.
“All roads are snow covered and it is still snowing,” Yates said in a city release early Sunday. “The snow is covering it up as fast as we can plow it off.”
Public works was focusing on priority 1 streets. Primary roads have to be the priority for snow removal to ensure they are passable for our emergency responders, city officials said.
To assist with getting vehicles off streets for snowplows all city-owned parking garages are free through 8 a.m. Tuesday. Drivers need to take an entrance ticket (for record keeping) but the exit gates are open.
As of 1 p.m. Sunday, Duke Energy was reporting this many customers as having no power: