No snow, but ice is still a possibility

Published 11:59 am Wednesday, January 20, 2016

By Deirdre Parker Smith

A January snow would be lovely, but it looks like we’re headed for an ice storm instead.

Forecasters say it’s hard to predict just what kind of precipitation Rowan will get, but officials with the N.C. Department of Transportation and Rowan County Weather feel pretty confident our main problem will be ice.

The National Weather Service has issued a winter storm watch for Thursday night into Saturday evening.

“I’m leaning heavily to a significant ice storm,” said Steve Monday, a forecaster certified by the National Weather Service. Monday looks at 53 different weather models, pays close attention to what’s going on outside and presents a forecast for Rowan County Weather, available through Facebook and Twitter.

Kevin Neal, county maintenance engineer for the NCDOT, says the department is already brining routes in preparation for what’s to come.

“I’ve heard everything from blizzards to deserts,” he laughed, “but we watch the local weather, the National Weather Service and try to put it all together. I think it’s in and out today, and then it will clear tomorrow. What we’re worried about is the event Friday, Friday night and Saturday.”

Neal said that event is one that’s worrying, not knowing exactly what will fall on Rowan County, but he expects it to be a long event. “We’ve got people on standby; it makes long days for our crews,” which are supplemented with private contractors who help clear snow.

“It depends on the event. Every snow is different and the way you attack it is different, whether it’s wet snow or dry snow.” If ice falls first and then is covered by snow, he said, the snow provides some traction, so the DOT does not want to scrape down to the ice.

“The conditions vary widely in this county. … Shady areas are a problem.”

Salisbury is prepared and ready to go, depending on what happens, says Craig Powers, street and storm water services manager. “We started yesterday checking equipment, getting the plows ready to go, laying out schedules.”

Powers didn’t expect much of a problem Wednesday, but some personnel were staying later to see what happens.

The bigger threat is Thursday night into Friday. “We’re watching the weather continuously, we’ve heard sleet, freezing rain, snow. We’ve got our plows ready and our salt and sand spreaders.”

NCDOT is in charge of spreading brine, which has gone down on some of the major thoroughfares. The DOT focuses on the interstates, U.S. highways, then N.C. highways and finally, state roads.

Salisbury will spread the salt and sand mixture on emergency routes, around the hospital and bridges. “The salt lowers the freezing temperature, and the sand gives you traction,” Powers says.

There’s no point in spreading anything if it’s raining, since it will just wash off.

Powers expects the roads to be pretty bad Friday, and advises just staying home. If you have to go out, “give yourself a lot of time and give yourself a lot of space.”

The city will make sure the police, fire departments and ambulances will be able to respond to emergencies, “then we go into neighborhoods.”

Powers says the city has been preparing for months, starting with a snow preparedness meeting in November. Recently, the city has done snow plow training.

“We’re not scrambling. We are prepared as can be, we just have to pull out the game plans and start moving.

Neal hopes Thursday’s sun will warm up the ground so whatever falls Friday will not be as much of a problem.

Monday says Rowan’s weather is different from what many forecasters predict. Rowan is a far piece from Greenville-Spartanburg, where the nearest radar is located. “Charlotte doesn’t really cover Rowan, either,” he says.

That’s why he considers so many different weather models and relies on his own instinct to tell him what’s going on outside.

“The models are leaning very heavily toward an ice event” Friday, he said. “Today, we’ll have flurries. … Friday, I think we’ll get a good quarter inch of ice and it ends Saturday with snow. Everyone gets excited about that part.”

Monday said since temperatures have not been above freezing since Monday, whatever falls will stick. He’s keeping an eye on the south and west to see what’s coming our way.