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January 28, 2013

Sleet, rain create on and off road havoc

ICY WEATHER WOES

TARBORO — Cold and inclement, wet weather makes for icy roads, accidents and a dash to grocery stores.

That was the case and point Friday when sleet and rain storm created hazardous driving conditions in Eastern North Carolina. In Edgecombe County, at least 32 accidents occurred within a two-hour period. There were no serious injuries.

Inclement weather began around noon when snow began falling on Edgecombe County for the first time in nearly two years — on Feb. 9, 2011. A second band of bad weather first delivered rain followed by sleet, which, coupled with rapidly dropping temperatures instantly made driving treacherous.

North Carolina Highway Patrol Troop C responded to 214 accidents with “the majority of our calls from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m.,” said First Sgt. Jeff Gordon. “We increased our calls by 200. There were so many accidents because the temperature dropped so quickly.”

Gordon said the majority of the accidents were caused by drivers “failing to reduce speed.”

 Because of the prediction of the icy weather, Town of Tarboro, Edgecombe County and N.C. Department of Transportation crews began treating roads on Thursday and continued early Friday morning.

As the first snowflakes began to fall Friday afternoon, people made a mad dash to the grocery store. Tarboro’s Piggly Wiggly stayed so busy that owner Kenny Honeycutt had to call in extra staff.

“The 25th — this would typically be a slow day and it’s been anything but. We’ve been really busy,” Honeycutt said. “We’re thankful for the business any time we can get it as long as everybody stays safe.”

Marcus Weathersbe, a grocery bagger, took a cartload of groceries out to a customer’s car as store employee Haywood House sprinkled salt rock on the sidewalk and employee Mike Braxton put a sign on the store’s door stating the store would close at 7 p.m. instead of the normal 9 p.m.

“They called me in early, so it’s pretty bad,” Weathersbe said, but he kept a smile on his face as he made his way out to the parking lot as the sleet fell.

As usual in bad weather, the bread shelves were the first to become bare.

“Folks have brought us extra bread,” Honeycutt said. “People prepare for the worst, so they buy those things that you wouldn’t have to cook — canned meat, peanut butter, bread. That’s what people typically go after. A lot of folks will buy stew beef, brown beef.”

Customers leaving Piggly Wiggly by 2:30 p.m. Friday had just enough time to get home before the roadways started to become treacherous. A steady stream of sleet fell from about 2 p.m. until around 8 p.m.

“We do see ice storms maybe every couple of years, so it’s not highly unusual,” said Shawna Cokley, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Raleigh.

Sunday afternoon’s sunshine and temperatures in the upper 30’s melted the remaining ice from the storm.

After early dismissals on Friday, both the Edgecombe County Public Schools and North East Carolina Prep School returned to normal schedules today.

As is typical for eastern North Carolina winters, the weather will change drastically this week

“Wednesday, it will probably be near 70, so quite a warm up,” Cokley said. Wednesday night will bring a cold front to the area, with the potential for rainfall and even stormy weather.

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