LUMBERTON — The bread and milk have been purchased, the roads are being salted, and emergency officials are getting ready.
Now what remains is to see how hard a winter storm that is closing in on Robeson County hits. There will be plenty of wet stuff, but whether it is rain, sleet or the preferred powdery snow remains to be seen.
Dave Loewenthal, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Wilmington, had this forecast this morning.
“We’re looking for light rain to start this evening, becoming heavy overnight. Some time during the morning tomorrow we’re looking for a change over,” he said. “It could be a variety of things. It may start out as a light, moderate freezing rain and then change briefly over to sleet — then snow by mid-to-late morning.”
Loewenthal said there could be a couple of inches of accumulation in Robeson County, and perhaps up to 3 inches in the northern and western sections of North Carolina’s largest county. Whatever falls, will hang around for a while as temperatures are expected to stay below freezing into next week.
“It will become more windy on Saturday afternoon, will likely stay below freezing on Sunday and Monday morning could see temperatures in the single digits, he said.
That could make driving treacherous. The Highway Patrol had some simple advice.
“Don’t. Stay home, stay out of it,” patrol Sgt. Philip Collins said. “We are expected to get a lot of sleet, ice and then snow. Don’t travel if you don’t have to.”
But if you insist.
“Certainly reduce your speed, be cautious,” he said.
Transportation officials were working to make the roads safer for those who insist on venturing out.
“The National Weather Service says there is a very good chance of snow,” said Chuck Miller, Robeson County district engineer for the North Carolina Department of Transportation. “Our salt bins are full, our snow equipment is installed and our personnel are ready.”
DOT trucks began spraying a salt-brine solution on Interstate 95 and all primary routes on Thursday and expected to be finished no later than this morning. The Robeson district site has 795 tons of salt in storage, 18 dump trucks with plows and spreaders and two motor graders.
With more than 50,000 customers and 5,600 miles of lines, Lumbee River Electric Membership is readying its personnel and equipment for the weekend, said Walter White, director of marketing.
“We are meeting this afternoon to make sure we are prepared to answer the phone and that personnel will be on-call,” White said Thursday afternoon. “We’re getting weather updates now.
“Of course, freezing rain is the worst-case scenario, but we believe that whatever precipitation comes down this weekend, it will already be frozen.”
As a member of a network of electric cooperatives, LREMC has mutual aid agreements with cooperatives near and far. After Hurricane Matthew, more than 100 additional service personnel were called in from as far away as Tennessee and Maryland.
All 30 of Lumberton’s electric utility workers will be on-call over the weekend, said Lamar Brayboy, director of city Electric Utilities.
“We’re stocking trucks, making sure they are fueled up and checking generators. We routinely keep the city’s trees trimmed around utility lines, so we are hoping for the best.”
Duke Energy officials were in a wait-and-see mode, a spokesman said.
The Lumber River is at flood stage, but problems aren’t likely, good news for residents still skittish from the effects of Matthew. The National Weather Service has issued a flood warning.
But Stephanie Chavis, director or Emergency Services for the county, downplayed the threat.
“Any time we get to a flood stage, which is 13 feet, we see this,” Chavis said. “But right now we are not focusing on the flood. It is more about the rain and sleet.”
According to the National Weather Service, the river was at 13.1 feet Thursday afternoon. With the expected wet stuff this weekend, it is expected to rise to 14 feet by Sunday — in the river’s minor flood stage, which is defined as a “minimal” threat to property by the National Weather Service.
Following Hurricane Matthew on Oct. 8, the river crested at 24.4 feet, causing widespread damage estimated to be in the hundreds of millions of dollars.
On Thursday and this morning, local grocery and hardware stores were enjoying brisk business as people prepared for a weekend inside.
“I got caught by the hurricane, but not this time,” said Keith Lynch, who was at Fresh Foods IGA on Pine Street in Lumberton. “I’ve got milk, bread, orange juice, bologna and coffee. I’ve got kerosene too, and I’m thinking about a generator.”
Fresh Foods was ready for the weather, too.
“We order extra bread and milk,” said Darrell Goldberry, store manager. “We plan to be open, but people are not taking any chances. It’s busy today.”
In the grocery store with two gallons of milk and three loaves of bread, Ralph Mullins downplayed the snow.
“I’m from up north; this is nothing,” he said.
Thursday was a busy day at Lumber River True Value Hardware, said Ericka Smith, assistant manager. She was folding stacks of thermal-lined overalls.
“Yes, we’re real busy,” she said. “Most popular items are ice melt, sleds, kerosene heaters, insulation and warm clothes.”
There were several sleds and flying discs left on the shelves Thursday afternoon, but those won’t last long. All that was left of a pallet of salt in the parking lot was a small pile of crystals.
Spokespeople for the Public Schools of Robeson County, Robeson Community College, and The University of North Carolina at Pembroke said their schedules remain unaffected as of this morning, and they will take a wait-and-see approach to Monday.
The Robesonian newspaper will publish Saturday and Sunday on a normal schedule, but those who get their papers delivered to their driveways could experience delays as carriers encounter dangerous roads.
In North Carolina, Saturday’s ceremonies formally marking the inauguration of Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper have been canceled. Activities scheduled for today will go on as planned.
The warning for central North Carolina calls for a mixture of snow and sleet with up to 5 inches locally and as much as 7 inches from the Central Piedmont to the Northern Coastal Plain.
Staff writers Bob Shiles, Terri Smith and Mike Gellatly contributed to this story, as did the Associated Press.