Town Council Discusses January Ice Storm

The Town of Chapel Hill reviewed their process for handling ice and snow after the recent storm in their meeting Monday night.

Interim Fire Chief Matthew Sullivan said the ice storm that hit the town last month had a few characteristics that made it tough prepare for and deal with

“It wasn’t fluffy, white easy to push snow,” he said.

Sullivan also said the temperature was too low and prevented the ice from melting.

Snow and ice storm

(Photo by Blake Hodge)

From noon on Friday, when the storm first began, to noon the Monday after, there were only 12 hours of over 30 degree weather and only seven hours of sunlight, which meant ice on sidewalks and roads didn’t melt.

Some residents were upset at what they saw as a lack of response from the town when it came to clearing sidewalks.

“How we clear our streets and how we clear our sidewalks isn’t just about how we get cars from place to place,” said councilwoman Donna Bell. “It’s really a social justice issue. There are people who don’t have cars. There are some people who have to walk.”

Response to the storm cost the town $350,776 , which included spreading 32,000 gallons of brine on the roadways and hiring contractors to help get everything done.

“The Town of Chapel Hill has four brine distributors, five box spreaders, 10 plows and a motor grader,” Sullivan said. “That isn’t sufficient to do the type of clean up we need to do and so we employ contract resources.”

The town brought in an additional four plow trucks, five motor graders, three rubber tire loaders and eight skid steers.

Sullivan said the cost of storm was factored into this year’s budget and can be absorbed by individual departments.

One town employee said there are measures the town can take if another storm exceeds their current budget.

“Obviously we’re not equipped or budgeted for multiple large-storm events,” he said. “If there’s another large-storm event, the first strategy would be to try to find additional funds in departmental budgets to cover those costs.”

If there are not enough funds in those budgets, the town will look to find money in other places. In case of emergency the council can grant an additional appropriation.

http://chapelboro.com/featured/town-council-discusses-ice-storm

Sidewalks Still Covered After Winter Weather

It has been nearly a week since the winter storm came through our community dropping snow and ice across the area. But some residents are still struggling to get back into the day-to-day swing.

Crews with the state Department of Transportation and municipalities across our community have been working tirelessly to clear roadways in the aftermath of our latest bout with Old Man Winter.

Snow covering entrance at Estes Hills Elementary School. Photo via Blake Hodge.

Snow covering entrance at Estes Hills Elementary School. Photo via Blake Hodge.

Now residents are heading back to work and school. But that transition has been difficult for pedestrians and those using public transit that say the Town of Chapel Hill, in particular, has not done an adequate job clearing town-owned sidewalks and bus stops.

Geoff Green has been a Chapel Hill resident for the last seven-plus years and has a Master’s degree from UNC in city and regional planning.

Green says he is frustrated over town e-mails during the storm asking residents to avoid walking in the roadways, which had been plowed, and reminding residents it was their responsibility to clear the sidewalks on their property.

“It’s hard because the town claims that it can’t have an ordinance that fines anyone (for not clearing sidewalks in their property),” Green says, “but it’s even more difficult when the town itself doesn’t clear it’s own sidewalks.”

Green was one of several residents that took to social media to ask why the town wasn’t doing what it was asking of residents. Green was quick to thank the town for clearing certain areas, like the driveway entering Community Center Park on Estes Drive.

“The driveway was completely clear. There was plenty of parking spaces; all but two or so were free of snow,” Green says. “But the sidewalk out in front of Community Center Park was covered with snow and ice.

“And it was piled up, so it was clear that some of that snow and ice had been shoved from the driveway.”

Snow blocking sidewalk at Community Center Park. Photo via Blake Hodge.

Snow blocking sidewalk at Community Center Park. Photo via Blake Hodge.

Green says that his frustration comes from the contradiction in the town saying it values pedestrians and public transit but not maintaining those areas safely.

“It doesn’t appear that the town cares that much,” Green says. “And so it’s unclear why anyone else should care that much.”

Green isn’t the only resident upset over the condition of the sidewalks. Many chose to voice their grievances by e-mailing the Town Council and Mayor Pam Hemminger.

Travis Crayton is a graduate student at UNC studying city and regional planning and public administration and has been a Chapel Hill resident since 2009; Crayton is also an editor at the local blog Orange Politics.

“I wish I were surprised,” Crayton says. “But, having been here for a couple winters, it seems every year we continually have more and more winter weather and every year it seems like there’s not an adequate response or sort of any attention paid to sidewalks.”

Crayton says he lives along Martin Luther King Junior Boulevard, uses public transit or walks to his destination regularly and leaves his vehicle behind. But he says that was made more difficult during the winter weather because town-owned sidewalks were not cleared.

“There was clearly no effort by the town to clear that at all,” Crayton says. “And I think when you do have the town not prioritizing sidewalks and taking the effort to clear them, it doesn’t signal to residents that this is important and that property owners and business owners should take responsibility for their sidewalks and clear it.”

Snow mound on sidewalk along Martin Luther King Junior Boulevard. Photo via Blake Hodge.

Snow mound on sidewalk along Martin Luther King Junior Boulevard. Photo via Blake Hodge.

Crayton says he was also disappointed with the response he got from public officials after the storm.

“Particularly council member Nancy Oates,” Crayton says, “who really didn’t seem to take this very seriously when she was engaging with me and Geoff (Green) and others on Twitter and just seemed to really dismiss the issue.”

Oates takes exception to the idea that she doesn’t take pedestrian safety seriously, citing her history living in the Midwest.

“I take icy sidewalks very seriously,” she says. “Because I know that in the winter weather people need to go out, or feel that they need to go out and that they can handle the ice. And then they go out and they find out they can’t, and they fall and break a hip.

“It can be a real serious problem.”

Oates points out that if residents want the town to prioritize clearing the sidewalks, budgeting will have to be reassessed to find the funding.

“Does that come from raising taxes? Does that come from taking the money from another program,” she asks. “Nobody is going to do this for free.”

Regardless of how it’s paid for, Green says a change in attitude toward clearing of sidewalks by the town and residents is needed for pedestrian safety.

“The approach seems to be, clear the road and the sidewalk and everything else will take care of themselves later,” Green says.

Green says he’d like to see the town work together with UNC and other large property owners to set the tone that clearing the sidewalks is a priority.

Oates says that the type of storm our area experienced this year, with more ice than snow, made clearing the debris more difficult. But she adds she expects the issue to be discussed during the Town Council’s planning retreat this weekend.

“Because of the ice storm, it really changed the conversation.”

http://chapelboro.com/featured/sidewalks-still-covered-after-winter-weather

Precipitation Over But Roads Still Icy

Communities across our area are continuing to deal with wintry weather and the challenges that presents.

Chatham, Durham and Orange Counties will be under a Winter Weather Advisory until noon on Sunday due to the threat of black ice, as forecasts are not calling for additional precipitation.

Power outages were concentrated from Raleigh to the east and knocked power out to tens of thousands of North Carolinians. But other than periodic individual outages, Chatham, Orange and Durham Counties were not impacted by widespread outages.

Chapel Hill officials reported responding to three vehicle accidents during the day on Friday but noted that residents were staying off the road for the most part on Saturday. Residents are continued to be encouraged to not park on roadways to allow for plows to clear the thoroughfares.

Crews are evaluating to determine if Chapel Hill Transit will be able to operate on Sunday. Community centers are expected to open at 12:30 Sunday afternoon, but the aquatic center will likely be closed on Sunday.

Due to the inclement weather, Orange County Public Libraries will continue to be closed on Sunday.

Hillsborough officials reported an estimated 10 vehicles being left on roadsides. Two vehicles abandoned in the roadway along West King Street and Lakeshore Drive were moved.

Police continue to ask residents to stay off the roads. “If you don’t have to go out, don’t,” advises Sgt. William Parker. “If you do and your vehicle gets stuck, don’t leave it in the middle of the road.”

Durham reported the highest number of accidents with 40 crashes being responded to on Friday.

http://chapelboro.com/featured/precipitation-over-but-roads-still-icy

Road Conditions on Saturday

If you don’t have to go out, don’t.   If you do have to go out, here is an idea of what to expect.

Late this afternoon, we did a tour of town in a 4-wheel drive vehicle and found that most of the side streets look like Rogerson Road (above) and Burning Tree (below).

snow - burning tree

Burning Tree Road, Chapel Hill

We made it down Burning Tree, intending to turn onto 15-501 which we knew was clear.  But – there was a wall of snow so high we couldn’t even see 15-501!

snow 2016 3

What happened to 15-501?

Maybe a Hummer could have made it but, we had no choice but to stop, turn around and go a different way – or go home.

If you don’t have to go out, don’t.

http://chapelboro.com/news/news-around-town/road-conditions

Four Fatalities Occur Due To Winter Weather

Governor Pat McCrory continued to urge people to stay off the roads during this winter storm.

In a press conference held Friday morning,  McCrory announced that four fatalities have occurred this year due to car accidents related to winter weather.

“Early this morning we had a very serious wreck on I-95 where one person has died,” he said. “A major trucking accident with several trucks and a car. We’re having some very serious issues on I-95 at this time.”

Because of the accident, parts of I-95 were closed.

McCrory said accidents are occurring because people don’t see snow on the road and speed up because they assume it is clear.

He urged drivers to be cautious and be aware of black ice.

“A concern we have right now is some of the mixtures are going from snow to rain back to snow back to rain to freezing ice and you’ve got to recognize that when the rain comes it’s taking off the materials that DOT did such a good job putting on.”

He said when the black ice comes after the rain, the salt brine or sand that has been laid down won’t work.

From Thursday night into Friday morning, the State Highway Patrol responded to 571 calls for assistance and McCrory said they have identified about 25 to 30 abandoned cars.

“The issue across the state is very strong gusty winds, which could cause power outages and make it difficult for safety personnel” he said.

Do not call 911 in non-emergency situations.

If you want updates on the roads or the weather, call 511, visits ReadyNC.org or download the ReadyNC app for your smartphone.

“Something my wife reminded me of last night that I didn’t mention,” McCrory said. “Make sure to check with your neighbors and check if they’re okay, especially if the power goes out.”

http://chapelboro.com/featured/four-fatalities-occur-due-to-winter-weather

Pat McCrory Issues State of Emergency

Governor Pat McCrory declared a state of emergency in anticipation of the winter storm that is expected to hit late Thursday night.

“As you know with weather there are certain predictions of weather but you never know what the end result will be,” he said. “That’s why we’re going to do everything we can to prepare our roads, public safety personnel and the general public to ensure we’re prepared for the worst of the worst, but hoping for the best.”

He said at the time of the press conference two North Carolinians had already lost their lives due to ice related car accidents.

“Stay off the roads when travel becomes dangerous,” McCrory said. “Unnecessary travel during a storm only puts people at risk. It also puts our emergency personnel at risk and if you must travel please slow down and leave room between you and other vehicles.”

This year North Carolina will be continuing a recent policy of checking all abandoned vehicles in case someone has been trapped in their car.

“This is very important for us is that we do not want to leave anyone abandoned on our highways and that’s going to be a major priority for the highway patrol,” McCrory said.”

North Carolina has also developed the ReadyNC app for smartphones, which will give users updates on the road conditions, shelter openings and the weather.

Colonel William Gray of the State Highway Patrol urges people to avoid using 911 in non-emergency situations.

“Keep track of the road conditions in your area,” he said. “But I ask you to do that by going to ReadyNC.com or by calling 511. Don’t call 911 or *HP. Let’s keep those open for emergency communication.”

For anyone who is forced to abandon their vehicle on the side of the highway, the highway patrol has a link on their website to let people know where their cars have been taken.

 

http://chapelboro.com/news/weather/pat-mccrory-state-of-emergency

Orange County Officials Preparing for Winter Weather

***A Winter Storm Warning has seen issued for Chatham, Durham and Orange Counties until staring at Friday at 12:00 AM until 6:00 PM Saturday night.***

Winter weather is approaching our community and officials want residents to get prepared.

Orange County Emergency Management coordinator Kirby Saunders says crews are working to make sure precautions are in place.

“We are placing our shelters team on standby and identifying shelter sites, should they be needed,” Saunders says. “We’re also conducting some walkthroughs of school facilities that could serve as shelter locations.”

Winter Weather Cancellations and Delays

Crews with the North Carolina Department of Transportation are also working to prepare roadways for potential inclement weather.

Ryan Ellis with the National Weather Service spoke with WCHL’s Ron Stutts on Friday morning:

 

Saunders says the message for Wednesday is to allow extra time and slow down on the evening commute.

“There may be some slick spots on roadways throughout the community,” Saunders says. “Just be aware of those and allow yourself plenty of distance on the way home.”

Saunders says that forecasts are calling for more intense weather on Thursday night into Friday and that this is a good opportunity to prepare.

“Be prepared for at least 72 hours of food, water and essential medications,” Saunders advises. “And also pets, don’t forget pets.”

Saunders says residents can also take steps to prevent pipes freezing in their homes by opening cabinet doors to allow the warm air in and to leave faucets dripping to keep water from becoming stagnant and freezing.

Saunders says residents can follow emergency services on social media for real-time updates.

“We’ll post routine updates on roadway conditions or blocked roadways or downed trees or potential power outages,” Saunders says. “Also, that’s a great source of information if we were to open a shelter; we’ll definitely have that information up there.”

Saunders also recommends signing up for OC Alerts.

“You can indicate to us when you register any special needs you may have,” Saunders says, “if you need assisted-walking devices or if you’re on oxygen or have special medication requirements.

“So that if we do have a power outage, it’s easier for us to reach out to those who are most in need and try to make accommodations for them.”

http://chapelboro.com/featured/orange-county-officials-preparing-winter-weather

Winter Weather Advisory

The National Weather Service in Raleigh has issued a Winter Weather Advisory for Central North Carolina beginning at 9 o’clock Thursday evening and running through 10 o’clock Friday Morning. This advisory is focused on the threat of black ice.

The weather has led to several closings.

 

http://chapelboro.com/news/weather/winter-weather-advisory

Winter Weather Advisory Expires; Threat Persists

The Winter Weather Advisory that was issued by the National Weather Service in Raleigh due to the threat of black ice expired at 10 o’clock Wednesday morning.

Road conditions are still very icy and causing major cancellations. And weather forecasts are calling for the possibility of light precipitation Wednesday evening, coupled with overnight temperatures in single digits.

Governor Pat McCrory gave a briefing on conditions across the state, Tuesday evening.

 

Lt. Josh Mecimore with the Chapel Hill Police Department told WCHL’s Blake Hodge that it appears most residents heeded the warning to stay off the roads.

 

More than 100 flights were canceled at Raleigh-Durham International Airport, according to RDU Spokesperson Mindy Hamlin. She gave an update to WCHL.

 

The winter weather means long hours for Orange County Emergency Services. Director Jim Groves spoke with WCHL.

 

The cold weather can be difficult for animals as well. Bob Marotto, Director of Orange County Animal Services, says that the best solution is to bring pets indoors.

 

For those without a warm place to go, the Inter-Faith Council has open doors.

 

AAA Carolina’s Tiffany Wright offers some tips for making it through the cold weather unharmed.

http://chapelboro.com/news/weather/weather-advisory-expires-threat-not

Winter Weather Approaching

Winter weather is approaching the Tar Heel state and could cause travel issues late Monday evening though mid-day Tuesday. The impending weather prompted Governor Pat McCrory to declare a state of emergency.

Listen to the full press conference with Governor McCrory and other state officials below:

Shawna Coakley, Meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Raleigh, says the projected forecast calls for snow Monday afternoon.

“We’re looking probably to see some of that starting around 3 [or] 4 o’clock,” she says. “The real active stuff probably won’t ramp up until this evening; we’re looking around 7 [or] 8 o’clock.

“We’ll see a switch over to more of a sleet and freezing rain situation. That could make for some potentially hazardous travel. And that’ll continue through the overnight hours and then start to move out in the morning hours on Tuesday.”

Brad Wall, Division Maintenance Engineer with the NC Department of Transportation, says that they have been preparing for this after getting a reliable forecast.

“On Sunday, we applied salt brine as conditions allowed and as time allowed,” he says. “Today, we are preparing our trucks: getting the spreaders on, getting the plows on and we’ll have them loaded out with salt.”

With the cold temperatures in recent days, Wall says that he is expecting the winter weather to begin accumulating quickly once it starts falling. That could lead to dangerous road conditions late Monday and into Tuesday morning.

The State Highway Patrol also released tips to stay safe during the winter weather, including avoid travel unless necessary, decrease speed, and wear your seatbelt. State troopers also encourage you to allow additional travel time. Law enforcement also cautions that, if you are in an accident, they may require additional response time due to the conditions.

http://chapelboro.com/news/weather/winter-weather-approaching