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As Ice Storm Approaches, Duke Energy Predicts Mass Power Outages

The National Weather Service's Forecast for North Carolina on Wednesday, Feb. 17, 2021.
NWS - Raleigh

Updated at 6:50 p.m. on Feb. 17, 2021

Freezing rain is expected across central North Carolina starting overnight Wednesday. Duke Energy says the winter weather may cause nearly one quarter of its North and South Carolina customers to lose power. 

School districts across central North Carolina are delaying classes, canceling them or shifting to remote learning due to the threat of severe winter weather. Durham Public Schools and Orange County Schools are among the districts that will be closed tomorrow. Chapel Hill-Carrboro Schools will conduct remote learning only.

Governor Roy Cooper has issued a state of emergency ahead of the storm. The order activates 40 members of the North Carolina National Guard to help with any tree or debris removal.

The governor's office says the state Department of Transportation has poured more than 30,000 gallons of brine on main roads throughout the state, but the agency is warning against driving in icy conditions.

The National Weather Service in Raleigh has issued a winter storm warning from the Triad to parts of the Triangle, including Durham, Guilford and Vance counties. A winter weather advisory is in effect for counties just south of I-85, including Wake and Chatham counties.

Duke Energy says nearly a quarter of its customers in North and South Carolina could lose power in the storm. Freezing rain will start overnight, switch to rain around noon tomorrow, then revert back to freezing rain tomorrow night. Duke Energy spokeswoman Meredith Archie says ice and heavy winds will likely cause widespread power outages.

"Anything over a quarter of an inch of ice accumulation is enough to bring down a tree branch, which can cause significant damage to our infrastructure and our power lines," said Archie.
Duke Energy says it's bringing line workers in from out of state, and has more than 5,0000 of them ready to respond.

Forecasters expect a tenth of an inch to a quarter of an inch in the Triangle, and half an inch in the Triad. says that a quarter-inch of ice can be disruptive to power lines, and a half-inch of ice accumulation can add 500 pounds of extra weight on power lines. National Weather Service meteorologist Nick Petro says ice accumulation could range from a tenth of an inch in Raleigh to half an inch in Greensboro.

“Half an inch of ice causes a lot of problems,” Petro said. “Imagine all the tree damage and power outages that occurred last week with three-tenths. In many places, this will be twice as much ice as we had last week.”

Petro says the Sandhills and coastal plain could get as many as three inches of rain, which could cause flooding along rivers that are already swollen from rain earlier this week.

COVID Vaccine Delays

Winter storms making their way across the U.S. will likely delay the shipment of COVID-19 vaccine to North Carolina this week. State health officials got the alert from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Tuesday.

Wake County announced it cancelled its drive-thru vaccination site at PNC Arena Thursday. The county will move all appointments scheduled for Thursday to Monday, February 22. Anyone scheduled to get the shot tomorrow who is not available to get vaccinated Monday should contact Wake's COVID-19 call center at 919-250-1515.

Multiple news outlets are reporting that the state is working with providers to minimize disruptions to vaccination clinics. North Carolina had 3,167 new COVID-19 cases on Wednesday

After the freezing rain eases, river flooding and localized flash flooding is expected. Some rivers are already in flood stages, including the Cape Fear and Lumber rivers.

The expected freezing rain comes after a tornado tore through Brunswick County late Monday night, killing three people, injuring 10 people and destroying several homes.

According to the National Weather Service, it’s supposed to be sunny during the day Wednesday, but temperatures will be about 10-15 degrees colder than it was on Tuesday. predicts temperatures dropping to as low as 29 degrees in Durham by 5 a.m. Thursday.

WUNC's Rusty Jacobs and Laura Pellicer contributed to this report.

Mitchell Northam is a Digital Producer for WUNC. His past work has been featured at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, SB Nation, the Orlando Sentinel and the Associated Press. He is a graduate of Salisbury University and is also a voter in the AP Top 25 poll for women's college basketball.
Celeste Gracia covers the environment for WUNC. She has been at the station since September 2019 and started off as morning producer.
Will Michaels is WUNC's Weekend Host and Reporter.
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