Weather poses threat of treacherous travel

Jan. 25, 2013 @ 05:02 AM

Drivers in Lee County and the surrounding area could be in for a messy evening commute, according to the National Weather Service, courtesy of winter weather expected to hit the region this afternoon.

“We expect precipitation to move into the area from the west,” said Jonathan Blaes, meteorologist with the NWS Raleigh office. “That’s going to be a mix of wintry precipitation types.” Blaes said that precipitation could start as snow or sleet between 1 and 3 p.m. before changing later to freezing rain and drizzle.

“Amounts with this storm will be fairly light,” the forecaster said, but given the recent frigid temperatures, whatever falls could freeze and accumulate.

“It’s quite likely the drive home will be messy, tricky,” Blaes added.

Trying to get ahead of the inclement weather, Lee County Schools instituted early release, with elementary schools letting out at noon, middle schools and Bragg Street Academy at 12:15 p.m. and high schools at 12:30 p.m. Chatham County Schools arranged to let classes out at 11:30 a.m. today.

Harnett County likewise announced an early dismissal, noting that release times would vary by site with noon being the latest release time for any school. Individual schools will advise parents of their release time, and all after-school activities for today have been canceled.

Nancy Veroni, emergency management coordinator with Lee County Emergency Services, echoed the warning to motorists. She said that freezing rain “could cause icy road conditions with a glaze [of ice], and temperatures are going to be low that will cause that glaze.”

“People need to drive cautiously, especially on bridges where it hits first anyway,” she said. “If they go anywhere, they need to take it slow.”

The NWS included Lee County in a winter weather advisory issued Thursday afternoon, as well as its neighbors Harnett, Moore and Chatham. The advisory was set to expire at 12 a.m. Saturday.

Lee County Emergency Services Director Shane Seagroves named black ice among the hazards that could result from the approaching front, which will be proceeded by very cold air that pushes ground temperatures below freezing.

“Forecasters are predicting approximately a tenth of an inch of ice tomorrow,” Seagroves said in an emailed statement Thursday. “This sounds like a very small amount, but please be reminded that this is enough to take down tree limbs and power lines in our area.”

N.C.Department of Transportation officials from Sanford and the nearby district office said that in anticipation of poor conditions this weekend, crews have already applied salt brine on the major roads in Lee County — Highway 15-501, Highway 87, Highway 421, Highway 42, Highway 78 and U.S. 1, all of which includes Hawkins Avenue, Horner Boulevard, Tramway Road and East and West Main Street. The department also had snow plows and spreaders rigged up in case they were needed.

Conditions should improve Saturday, Blaes said, which is expected to be mostly sunny with temperatures in the 40s or higher. Forecasts are calling for temperatures in the 60s by the middle of next week.