Snow and Ice in Chapel Hill and Hillsborough

Snow and ice fell on Chapelboro area on Friday, January 22, 2016 and Saturday, January 23, 2016.  Visit our closings and delays page and stay up-to-date on what’s happening with the weather.  Follow us on Twitter for more.  Share your photos with us:

Winter Storm Safety Tips

With our area experiencing a serious bout of winter weather, Orange County Emergency Management Coordinator Kirby Saunders, has some tips to keep you safe and warm.

“Anytime there is a significant snow storm and there is the potential for accumulation of ice, the potential is always there for power outages,” said Saunders.

If you lose power due to a downed power line, make sure you stay clear and call authorities.

“If you are experiencing a power outage, and if you don’t have down trees or down power lines but your power’s out, you should contact your utility provider unless there is an emergency such as fire or sparking or arcing,” said Saunders.

Even if your power goes out, avoid the temptation to bring in that gas grill from the porch to warm you up.

“Never try to bring in anything that uses fuel to produce heat so a gas grill or even a charcoal grill, anything that uses some type of fuel to burn, to generate heat, that’s a bad thing to do to bring it inside because the carbon monoxide can get you pretty quickly,” said Saunders.

With temperatures below freezing it is also important to make sure your pipes don’t freeze. Keep the faucet dripping or open your cabinets to allow heat to reach the pipes.

Saunders says the best idea is to play it safe, with icy conditions even your front steps can become a hazard.

“So the best course of action is to stay indoors during the store and immediately afterwards. Even just trying to walk to on snowy or icy walkways can be dangerous so if you don’t have to be out the best course is to stay inside,” said Saunders.

But if you have to venture outside, make sure to use caution.

“Another thing that is often overlooked is to limit your time outside but mainly don’t overexert yourself if your shoving snow, especially if your elderly or young or if you have medical problems,” said Saunders.

When It Snows, Who Clears The Sidewalks?

When Winter Storm Remus dropped eight inches of snow on the Triangle last week, local public works crews worked around the clock to clear the roads as quickly as possible.

But who – if anyone – is responsible for the sidewalks?

If you walked around Chapel Hill or Carrboro after the snowstorm, you might have found some of the sidewalks remained snowy and icy long after the roads were clear – and the same was true for a number of apartment complex parking lots as well. Who’s in charge of those?

“Pursuant to our town code – it’s actually Section 7.6 – occupants of store buildings are responsible for clearing the sidewalk in front of their building,” says Carrboro mayor Lydia Lavelle.

The town code reads: “Every occupant of a store building, in front of which the sidewalk is paved with stone, brick, asphalt or cement, shall remove snow, ice or other similar obstruction from such sidewalk at the earliest possible time and as soon as the weather permits.”

Read Carrboro’s Town Code.

In addition to businesses and store owners, Lavelle says residents are also encouraged to clear the sidewalks in front of their homes – and Chapel Hill Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt and Hillsborough Mayor Tom Stevens both say their towns have similar policies too.

“For the sidewalks that are in front of your property, the property owners are required – or (rather) requested to do it,” Stevens says. “That’s a policy that probably applies more to shop owners downtown than anything else.”

Read Chapel Hill’s policy on snow and ice removal.

That’s standard procedure across the country – generally speaking, town crews are not responsible for clearing sidewalks; that responsibility typically falls on the citizens.

But the operative word there is “requested,” not “required.” All three towns have it written into their ordinances that residents and store owners are “requested” or “encouraged” to clear their sidewalks – Carrboro’s ordinance says they “shall” clear them – but neither Chapel Hill nor Carrboro nor Hillsborough appear to impose any legal sanctions on residents or businesses who fail to do so.

Lavelle says the reason for that is simple: the towns simply don’t have the authority.

“(When) this happened last winter…we talked at one point about whether we had the authority to require clearing – and we don’t,” she says. “Local authority, that kind of issue. So here we encourage it – but by authority we can’t require it, or (impose a) fine or charge.”

At Timber Hollow Apartments in Chapel Hill, the roads were still covered in snow, slush and ice on Friday morning, more than 24 hours after the snow stopped. (Photo by Aaron Keck.)

At Timber Hollow Apartments in Chapel Hill, the roads were still covered in snow, slush and ice on Friday morning, more than 24 hours after the snow stopped. (Photo by Aaron Keck.)

It all comes back, in other words, to the problem of “home rule”: by North Carolina law, towns and counties are only able to do what the state legislature allows them to do – and in this case, Lavelle says, the state has not given towns that power.

Compounding the problem, Lavelle says, is the fact that a lot of sidewalks in Carrboro and Chapel Hill simply don’t have storefronts or houses behind them at all – so there’s no one to clear them regardless.

“So in a town like Carrboro, where people are used to walking down Weaver Street between Town Hall and Weaver Street (Market), and then on down to the Hampton Inn and East Main Street project – that’s a lot of sidewalk that just doesn’t get cleared,” Lavelle says.

Facebook and Twitter were abuzz in the last two weeks with residents pointing out icy sidewalks and snow-covered driveways. Lavelle says the towns can “nudge” businesses and residents to clear them off, but beyond that there’s not much they can do.

Kleinschmidt, though, says businesses do have a strong incentive to keep their sidewalks and driveways clear – they may not be subject to fines, but they could be subject to civil suits.

“Private property owners…do risk liability when they don’t keep their walkways clear,” he says. “So it’s always particularly in a business’s best interest to do that – also just to make sure customers feel welcome to come in, when it’s open during bad weather.”

And Stevens says for the most part, people did fulfill their duty.

“Most folks do a pretty good job of trying to make the way clear,” he says. “It was several days with that really bitter cold weather, but we managed to get through.”

Kleinschmidt and Lavelle both say town officials in Chapel Hill and Carrboro are looking into ways to make the response even better next time.

And in the meantime – while there may be a little snow left in the forecast this week – we can all take solace in the fact that last week’s snow will soon be only a memory.

In Hillsborough, Just Seven People To Clear The Roads

With more than an inch of snow expected to fall, plus a quarter inch of ice, local road crews were out all night trying to keep the streets drivable.

In Hillsborough, Mayor Tom Stevens says all that work is done by a skeleton crew of just seven people.

“These guys are unsung heroes,” he says. “We have seven in the department, and they’re doing good work out there.”

Stevens says about half the crew was out during the nighttime hours, and the rest will be out today. They’ll be clearing the roads of as much snow as possible – but Stevens says it still won’t be ideal.

“There’s very little we can do about the ice, if it gets to be icy out there,” he says. “We just have to wait it out like everybody else.”

The winter storm warning is in effect until 9 am.

Clouds To Keep Temperatures Down Tuesday, Warmer Wednesday

National Weather Service meteorologist Ryan Ellis says temperatures will stay in the 30s Tuesday, but the Triangle will see-saw right back to the 50s by Wednesday.

***Listen to the Interview with Ron Stutts***

Thin Glaze Of Ice Could Coat Trees Monday And Tuesday

Another dose of winter weather is on tap before spring officially arrives, but just how bad with this round be?

WCHL’s Ron Stutts spoke with National Weather Service meteorologist Brandon Vincent about the impending weather.

***Listen to the Interview***

CHCCS Works to Get Quicker School Closing Information Out to Parents

School officials are reviewing better ways of getting last-minute alerts out to parents, after last Friday’s freezing rain shut down Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools just before lunchtime.

Assistant Superintendent for Support Services Todd LoFrese of Chapel Hill-Carrboro City School says that last week’s freezing rain was one of those weather events that catches everybody off-guard.

He says it’s because there’s so much guesswork involved.

“It always seems that we’re like, on the edge of the forecast, and the temperature, both in terms of the amounts, and where we’re going to be talking about rain or snow.” says LoFrese. “It just always seems like Chapel Hill and Carrboro are right on that dividing line.”

Another problem was that the storm really hit Orange County hard by later in the morning, which had school officials scrambling to get the word out about closings.

“Friday was definitely a challenge,” says LoFrese. “Conditions were such that in our district, when we made the call, things looked good. It was raining. The Weather Service had indicated that temperatures were rising. We had checked power in our schools around 6 o’clock, and all our systems were good.”

Then, the weather took a quick and nasty turn. LoFrese says the school system received the first reports of school power outages between 7 and 8 a.m.

By mid-morning, five schools were without power. CHCCS made the decision that if power was not restored by 11:30, the five affected schools would be dismissed for the day.

“Obviously, the temperatures inside the schools were a concerning factor,” he says. “But at the same time, we didn’t want to dismiss students out into an unsafe travel situation.”

The word went out around 10:45, and CHCCS was informed at 11 a.m. that travel conditions were OK for dismissal.

But officials felt that safe-travel window closing rapidly, when high-wind warnings for the afternoon started coming in.

So the decision was made to close all schools in the district that day.

LoFrese says the message went out around 11:50 that the five schools without power would be dismissed first, with the remaining schools to be closed on a scheduled rollout.

He admits that sending the information out took longer than expected. The situation was complicated by the loss of phone service.

“We recognized that we weren’t providing a long window for parents to get home,” he says. “And so we contacted the schools and held buses at the school, beyond what we had originally planned for, to provide time for parents to get home.”

LoFrese says that one bright spot was a policy of some elementary schools to contact parents directly from classrooms.

He says he’s only heard a couple of reports from concerned parents whose children were delivered back to their bus stops without parents being notified first.

Lofrese says that the school system will work to improve communications in preparation for the next weather emergency, as well as making sure schools get more and quicker updates on weather conditions.

Very Cold Temperatures To Remain Until Midday

National Weather Service Meteorologist Gail Hartfield says it’s going to take a while to thaw out after temperatures plummeted into the teens.

***WCHL’s Ron Stutts Spoke with Hartfield on the Tuesday Morning News***

Cold Front To Bring Frozen Precipitation

National Weather Service Senior Forecaster Scott Sharp says once the cold front moves through the Triangle between 7:00 and 7:30 Monday morning, we should expect rain to switch to sleet at about midday.

WCHL’s Ron Stutts spoke with Sharp during the WCHL Monday Morning News.

***Listen to the Interview***

Thawing Temperatures On Their Way

RALEIGH – National Weather Service meteorologist Kathleen Carroll says the forecast is clear of frozen precipitation–at least in the near future–and temperatures are projected to be in the 40s Friday.

WCHL’s Ron Stutts spoke with Carroll on the Friday Morning News.

***Listen to the Interview***