Weather causes traffic snarls
by Kellen Moore and Anna Oakes
At least two wrecks causing injuries or serious property damage had been reported to the N.C. Highway Patrol as of 11:30 a.m. Friday, when dispatchers said traffic problems appeared to have calmed.
Rescuers responded just before 8 a.m. to a wreck at Baird's Creek Road, followed by a series of mishaps on Niley Cook Road around 9 a.m.
Drivers in other locations also reported snowy or icy roads that made travel treacherous.
In locations that were still passable, downed trees from heavy winds also became an issue, and the N.C. Department of Transportation responded to several problem areas throughout the morning.
DOT maintenance engineer Kevin Whittington said the majority of fallen trees were reported in the area of N.C. 194 North.
He said the department was having trouble keeping roads clear because of the squalls.
"Once we clear the road with our plow, it's not long before this wind had put the snow right back where we've pushed it from," Whittington said.
Although traffic for the most part moved smoothly on main highways Friday afternoon, secondary roads remained slick and snow covered as flakes continued to fall and winds continued to blow.
"It just comes in bursts," said Boone Public Works Director Blake Brown. "It's not going to get any better (today)."
Brown said crews were applying salt and slag to town roads, but snow squalls would blow through and soon cover the roads again in cold temperatures. The previous days' rainfall didn't help matters either, as moisture in the pavement made roads even more slick, he said.
The town of Boone's Public Works Department maintains about 105 roads, with four or five trucks operating at a time, each with a route that includes 20-some roads. It takes each truck about two hours to complete their routes, Brown said.
"We're just staying with it as best we can," Brown added. He advised motorists to drive slowly, be especially careful driving down hills and at intersections and to maintain a safe distance between other drivers.
Blue Ridge Electric also stayed busy throughout the night and morning, restoring power to more than 1,000 customers following high winds.
The majority of those members were in Watauga County, where winds damaged 13 areas of the electric system starting at 12:30 a.m. A total of 772 members were affected, according to BREMCO.
Although most students were already out for the holidays, Two Rivers Community School in Boone and the Watauga campus of Caldwell Community College both shut their doors Friday.
The National Weather Service forecasts snow to continue until midnight Friday evening in the High Country, with two to four inches of accumulation. Temperatures will range from the low to mid-20s -- in the teens at the highest elevations -- with wind chills in the single digits.
As of Friday afternoon, Watauga County remained under a High Wind Warning, forecasted to continue until 6 p.m. Saturday, according to the National Weather Service. Forecasters predicted sustained winds between 25 and 35 mph, with gusts up to 70 mph, causing the potential for downed trees and power lines and structural damage.
The strongest wind gusts were expected to occur Friday night and early Saturday morning, the NWS said.