750,000 in the Carolinas could lose power in ice storm Sunday, Duke Energy warns

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John D. Simmons/Charlotte Observer file photo

The Charlotte area faces seven to eight hours of unrelenting freezing rain on Sunday, enough to topple large tree branches onto power lines, a National Weather Service meteorologist said Saturday.

Duke Energy expects 750,000 of its 4.3 million customers in the Carolinas to lose power.

“Outages in some of the hardest-hit areas could last several days,” the company posted on its website Saturday.

Duke Energy has placed 10,000 power line technicians and other workers across its coverage area to quickly respond to downed lines. The workers include 4,100 from other power companies as far away as Texas and Oklahoma and Duke Energy workers normally based in Florida, Indiana, Ohio and Kentucky.

“You’re going to be under the gun pretty good,” meteorologist Scott Krentz of the NWS office in Greer, S.C., said at 8 a.m.

Freezing rain is predicted to begin falling across Charlotte and surrounding areas from right after daybreak until about 4 or 5 p.m., according to the meteorologist.

“By noon or 1 p.m., accumulations should be up to a quarter inch,” he said.

Expected wind gusts of up to 25 mph could also knock branches onto lines, he said.

“It’s a bad combination,” Krentz said.

“Impossible” travel

In a weather alert at 4:45 a.m. Saturday, the NWS repeated an earlier warning that ”travel could be nearly impossible across the entire area.”

A winter storm warning by the NWS is scheduled to take effect at midnight and last 24 hours.

“Now is the time to get prepared,” Gov. Roy Cooper said at a news conference Saturday morning.

About 200 N.C. National Guard members have been activated to help in emergencies, Cooper said, and more shelters will open as needed.

“The State Highway Patrol recommends staying home Sunday and Monday, if you can,” Cooper said.

NCDOT crews spread more than 2.5 million gallons of brine across roads statewide, and “400-plus” trucks are ready to clear roads, state Transportation Secretary Eric Boyette said.

When freezing rain could arrive

For Charlotte, freezing rain is forecast to begin falling in the region no later than 9 or 10 a.m. Sunday, sometimes in heavier bands, other times lighter, Krentz said.

Expect sleet and snow before daybreak, he said.

The NWS forecast on Saturday called for two- to four-tenths of an inch of ice to fall in metro Charlotte on Sunday and 1 to 2 inches of snow and sleet.

After 5 p.m. Sunday, the mixture could turn to all rain for awhile before some freezing rain and snow returns, adding less than a tenth of an inch to what’s already on trees and the ground, the forecast shows. No snow is expected to accumulate Sunday night, according to the NWS.

Forecast elsewhere

The storm is expected to dump 6 inches to a foot of snow on the North Carolina foothills, north and northwest of Charlotte, according to the NWS winter weather warning.

Nearly 2 feet of snow could blanket elevations higher than 4,000 feet in the N.C. mountains, according to the alert.

Subfreezing temps ahead

A frigid Charlotte forecast means icy roads could linger into at least the middle of the week, meteorologists said.

The NWS forecast on Saturday called for four straight mornings of subfreezing overnight lows — 27 degrees early Sunday, 29 degrees Monday, 22 degrees Tuesday and 26 degrees Wednesday.

Thursday’s low should ease up a bit, to 36 degrees, but snow showers and a low of 26 are forecast for early Friday.

Charlotte has only a slight chance of snow and sleet before 1 a.m. Sunday and a chance of the mixture between 1 and 4 a.m., according to the NWS forecast.

Monday should be sunny but with a high of only 41 degrees, the forecast shows.

And highs are forecast to remain in the 40s through Thursday, before plummeting to an expected 38 degrees Friday.

2002 deadly ice storm

The worst ice storm to strike the Carolinas in recent years killed 24 people in December 2002, the Associated Press reported.

“An Ice Storm for the Ages,” the N.C. State Climate Office called the Dec. 4-5 weather system that knocked out power to 1.8 million Carolinians.

At one point, Duke estimated, 57% of its customers in the Carolinas were without power. It took utility crews until Dec. 14 to restore all power, according to a State Climate Office post about the storm.

Deaths included a number of carbon monoxide victims who used charcoal grills indoors to get heat.

Correspondent Steve Lyttle contributed.

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