DURHAM, N.C. (AP) — Snow and sleet pounded a large swath of the East Coast on Saturday, coating roads with ice and causing hundreds of crashes. Thousands of people lost power and forecasters warned of blizzard-like conditions from Virginia to parts of the Northeast.
Police investigated several fatal crashes as potentially storm-related, but some of the South’s biggest cities – Atlanta, Charlotte and Raleigh – appeared to avoid the worst of the storm. Authorities praised residents for learning the lessons of past storms that resulted in icy gridlock, where thousands of people were stranded along the interstates. But officials warned that bitter cold would keep roads treacherous well after the snow and sleet stopped.
“If I tell you anything it would be stay home,” Gov. Roy Cooper said. “Do not go out and drive on the roads unless you absolutely have to.”
North Carolina cities Burlington, Greensboro and Roxboro received 8 inches or more of snow, and several inches fell in southeast Virginia, where a blizzard warning was issued for the cities along the coast.
North Carolina reported more than 250 crashes, while Virginia had more than 100. Hundreds of crashes were reported in Tennessee starting Friday. Hundreds of flights were canceled, from Atlanta to airports farther north.
At least one fatality – a man whose pickup truck went off a snow-slickened Kentucky road Thursday – has been blamed on the weather. Motorist deaths in North Carolina and Maryland as the storm blew in were investigated to see if they were caused by the weather.
Power outages had grown to about 25,000 in North Carolina alone, according to a news release from the governor. Nearly half were in the Charlotte area and adjacent Union County, according to Duke Power.
In Cornelius, north of Charlotte, Matt Thomas said he used a ruler to measure nearly 6 inches of snow and sleet that had piled up on the back of his pickup truck. He planned to spend the weekend enjoying the snow and watching television. A plow passed through his neighborhood, but the road still looked slippery.
“The sleet started first, so there’s definitely a layer of ice under the snow,” he said by phone. “I’m staying home.”
The unpredictable storm left some areas with much different outcomes than neighboring counties. Unofficial totals from the National Weather Service showed that much of Raleigh and Charlotte had 2 inches or less of precipitation – much of it sleet – while areas to the north of both cities got several inches of snow.
In Atlanta and parts of Georgia, people who were expecting a couple of inches of snow instead woke up to a thin coat of ice. Still, it didn’t stop children from sliding down slick grassy hills in what is a once- or twice-a-year icy occurrence.
Some took to social media to complain that they didn’t have anything to sled in, prompting an apologetic Tweet from one well-known Raleigh weatherman.
“To all my detractors, more than 24 hours ago I began talking about how this snow event could go up in smoke. I try to be honest-all I can do,” WRAL-TV chief meteorologist Greg Fishel said early Saturday.
A blizzard warning for southeast Virginia accompanied forecasts of high winds and up to 9 inches of snow there. The National Weather Service had already measured nearly 6 inches of snow at its post in Wakefield on Saturday.
Even with snow coating Virginia Beach roads, diners and staff made it to the popular breakfast spot Citrus.
“When there’s bad weather, people come out,” manager Tara Junke said. “I’ve worked in restaurants for 20 years in Hampton Roads and we’ve never shut down for snow.”
Chris Turner, 58, a health care analyst sitting at the counter with a mug of tea, said he drove 7 miles to his usual breakfast spot, aided by four-wheel drive.
“It’s fun to enjoy mother nature in all her glory,” he said. “I’d rather be out. I can’t stay at home.”