Sandy’s winds ease in central N.C., but snow continues in mountains
(MCT) — RALEIGH, N.C.—Hurricane Sandy’s ghost continued to haunt the Appalachians with snow and the Triad and west with some wind Tuesday, but its impact was diminishing in North Carolina even as it intensified for most of the Northeast.
The Triangle and central North Carolina avoided the stormy extremes that prompted Gov. Bev Perdue to issue an emergency declaration Monday for 24 western counties, where forecasters expected snow up to 12 inches and winds up to 65 mph. Perdue had taken similar action Saturday for 40 eastern counties, as Sandy approached along the coast.
“I urge folks across the state to continue to be vigilant and to monitor the wind and the water in the east, and to monitor the cold weather, the ice and the snow in the west,” Perdue said at an afternoon news briefing. “And always listen out for what the local emergency management officials are telling us.”
Tuesday, weather forecasters reported up to 5 inches of snow had fallen in Ashe County and 2 inches in Boone in Watauga County. Boone could accumulate 2 to 4 more inches Tuesday, the National Weather Service said, and Asheville was under a winter-storm warning until 6 a.m. Wednesday.
A high-wind warning and forecasts of up to 9 inches of snow on west-facing slopes remained in effect for the far northwest Virginia border counties.
In the Triangle, Tuesday’s forecast was for high temperatures in the upper 40s and a 70 percent chance of rain or drizzle.
As for winds, forecasters in Raleigh said they would be “more of an inconvenience than a real threat to property.”
Amtrak, Greyhound and Megabus suspended most service north of Raleigh on Monday. Hundreds of flights in and out of the state’s airports were scrubbed, stranding thousands of travelers.
Continued airport closures in the north fouled travel plans.
Most ferries were docked Sunday and Monday, and coastal highways were flooded with sand and sea water. Sandy’s winds were clocked above 60 mph early in the day along the Dare County beaches. Parts of the Avalon Pier at Kill Devil Hills were blown away, and seafront homes were damaged in Rodanthe.
Monday, as much as 2 feet of water covered N.C. 12 on parts of Hatteras and Ocracoke islands, and the highway was shut down south of the Oregon Inlet Bridge. Perdue said the state Department of Transportation hoped to start an emergency ferry Tuesday to Hatteras Island from Stumpy Point on the Dare County mainland, for supplies and emergency workers only.
The hurricane combined with a winter storm system to bring snow unseasonably early to Western North Carolina.
Emergency officials worried that heavy, wet snow would bring down trees and power lines in the west. They warned of dangerous driving Monday night and Tuesday because of high winds and slick pavement. Some ski resort operators said they planned to open for business Wednesday, weeks earlier than usual.
As Sandy forced the shutdown of major airports in New York and the northeastern United States, flight schedules were cut in half Monday at Raleigh-Durham International Airport and across the state. An RDU spokeswoman said at least 150 departing and arriving flights had been scrubbed Monday.
Similar numbers of cancellations were announced or expected Tuesday. Flights to the south and west were not affected.
Most passengers got the word from their airlines well in advance, and they never left their homes or hotels for the airport. RDU’s Terminal 2 was unusually quiet at 9 a.m. Monday.
Chad Barker drove more than four hours from his home in Harrisonburg, Va., to meet his wife’s United Airlines flight to RDU from Chicago. Jeanne Barker had intended to fly Sunday to Baltimore, a mere three-hour drive from Harrisonburg. She missed a stand-by seat on a jet that carried her luggage to Baltimore without her, and her next flight was canceled.
She had to spend Sunday night at a Chicago airport motel. But it could have been worse.
“If she didn’t fly here to RDU it was going to be Thursday before she got home,” Chad Barker said as he watched his wife approach, and opened his arms for a hug. “She would have been stuck in Chicago for four days if they didn’t get her here today.”
Will Niver of Durham arrived on the same United jet from Chicago. But Hurricane Sandy got him home sooner, not later, than he had planned.
“I was supposed to have a connection in Philly this morning, but the Philly flight was canceled,” said Niver, 27, of Durham. “So instead, they sent me here direct from Chicago. In terms of my flight, oddly enough, the hurricane got me here quicker.”
Car rental agencies at RDU lost business with airline travelers forced to cancel plans to drive around the Triangle for a few days. But they had plenty of cars available for travelers who had hoped to leave RDU by air. A Hertz manager who declined to be identified said most of her customers Monday were renting cars one-way, to drive home.
Eliza Branch of Richmond, Va., picked up one of those cars at the Enterprise lot. She had flown from London to Chicago with her 6-year-old son, Patteson, and her mother, Alice Siegel, and then their final United Airlines flight to Richmond was canceled.
So they flew to RDU and rented a car to drive home to Richmond.
“If we stayed (in Chicago), United said it would be two to three days before we could get another flight,” Branch said.
Her mother added, jokingly: “We were told they had plenty of cots at the airport. But three nights with a 6-year-old? Shoot me.”
(Staff photographer Shawn Rocco contributed.)