Winter still packs a punch in Carolinas

Two down, two months to go.
Jan. 30, 2013 @ 11:18 AM

Two down, two months to go.
With two storms hitting the Chair City in consecutive weeks, 2013 is reminding Thomasville officials that North Carolina winters still pack a little punch. Friday’s freezing rain and snow mixture proved that predicting and preparing for winter weather is never a sure thing.
An earlier than expected arrival of sleet and rain combined with sub-freezing temperatures made for an interesting Friday morning as city crews and school officials scrambled to catch up with rapidly deteriorating road conditions. Forecasts had the wintry mix moving across the area in mid-afternoon, prompting Thomasville City Schools to issue an early release Friday. When roads started slicking up by 10 a.m., TCS Superintendent Keith Tobin knew he a long day in front of him.
“You try to make your call based on what the forecast says,” Tobin said. “For Friday, I went ahead and made a decision on Thursday based on the forecast. Every venue I looked at said [the weather] would come in around noon or 1 p.m. At 9:30 I was riding to the primary school and saw a flake. Within five minutes, the roads were covered. It tells you the forecasters do the best they can but they don’t always get it right. It made for a pretty stressful day that‘s for sure.”
With roads conditions declining, Tobin moved the early release up, but the process takes time as bus drivers have to be notified and brought back to their respective schools. Tobin said only one accident occurred as a result of the weather. A Thomasville High School student lost control of her vehicle and hit a tree, but suffered no major injuries.
“She said she was OK,” said Tobin. “They took her to the hospital and she suffered a hurt leg. You just pray real hard that people make it home safely. I basically based the whole dismissal process on the forecast and it just didn’t happen the way they predicted it would happen.”
With Friday fresh in his mind, Tobin elected to issue a two-hour delay for Monday morning amidst reports of freezing rain. When winter weather rolled through on Jan. 17, Tobin called off school as TCS had scheduled a teacher work day, resulting in no lost time for students.
“I would rather make a mistake on nothing out there and everyone’s safe then something out there and we have people hurt,” Tobin said. “The thing that was scary about Friday is that when we dismissed the roads were covered. Our bus drivers did a fantastic job of getting our kids home safe. It was a pretty stressful day for me, getting 3,000 people home safely.”
City Manager Kelly Craver said he met with staff early Friday morning with the same notion of a mid-afternoon event. Like Tobin, Craver had to change plans on the fly.
“That was a large surprise,” said craver. “We had a plan and had crews ready to come in at 12. We looked out the window at 9:15 and it already had started. It was just a matter of switching gears and going at it a little earlier.”
Two weekends created contrasting situations for the city. Heavy rains leading up to Jan. 17 prevented the city from applying brine solution to the roads, Craver said, resulting in slick travel conditions the following morning. On Friday, city crews were able to lay down the brine on streets, making for a much easier cleanup.
“Brine helps create a barrier and helps raise the freezing point so it makes it more difficult for the freezing weather to attach to the streets and makes it easier to scrape the roads,” Craver said. “This past weekend we were able to apply brine solution and that helped less ice form on the streets and made it much easier for crews to apply sand and salt.”
Every fall, Craver said the city conducts a practice run in preparation for winter weather, making sure snow plows are working and brine solution tanks are full. Craver said city crews have a done good job handling the winter weather so far following a relatively calm 2012.

Staff Writer Eliot Duke can be reached at 888-3578, or duke@tvilletimes.com.