It all started very innocently yesterday. It was supposed to be a cold day (for NC) with highs in the 20’s and a chance of flurries. No accumulation was forecast. Yeah, I know…flurries! So what, you say? Well, that’s what I was thinking until yesterday afternoon.
The supposed flurries arrived just before noon. The problem was that these flurries did not go away – they got stronger and stronger, until there was a general heavy snowfall. It lasted for over two hours and ultimately covered not only the grassy surfaces and buildings, but every untreated roadway in the Triangle with over two inches of the white stuff.
The first thing to happen was the local schools announcing that they were closing early. Bear in mind that the Wake County Public School System alone is one of the largest systems in the country with over 100,000 students. With this unexpected snow event, where were the students to go and who was to pick them up?
Parents heard about the schools closing, looked outside and freaked out. A mass exodus of employees all around the area soon followed, and by 2 PM, everyone and their brother was on the roads. Problem? You bet – no one here knows how to drive in icy or snowy conditions! Bigger problem? The DOT, only expecting flurries, was nowhere to be found. Hundreds of accidents followed and total gridlock soon spread throughout the Triangle like wildfire. Accidents brought traffic to a halt. Authorities could not get to the scenes to clean them up. The DOT now could not spread salt or sand if they wanted to. All major roadways were at a standstill, and most secondary roadways are only accessible from one of these prime thoroughfares (I-40, I-440, I-540, US-70, NC-147, NC-54). All of these roads were now at a dead stop.
Chaos was now the word of the day. As the afternoon wore on, all remaining commuters decided to hit the roads. They had nowhere to go, however, since those who left early were going nowhere fast. I was one of them. I decided it was better to stay later than leave early and be out with all the idiots.
I checked the WRAL traffic cams before heading out around 4:15. Of course, all the traffic cams on my route showed total gridlock and I heard on the radio to avoid I-40 at all cost. I planned accordingly and decided to go one of the back ways to Raleigh. Apparently, so did everyone else.
As I began my journey onto NC-147, I quickly came to a dead stop after only being on the road for about a mile. Since there was no end in sight to the traffic ahead of me, I decided to exit the highway and head for US-70 Business, another way to get home from Durham. The roads in downtown Durham were in good condition and relatively traffic free. Once I got to the intersection with US-70 Business, however, traffic came to a stop. This road, too, had fallen victim to gridlock. I reluctantly awaited my turn to enter the stopped roadway. This was the only viable alternative. Two hours later, I had traveled as far as Brier Creek, just barely inside of the Wake County line. I assumed it would get better from here. I was wrong. The roads quickly turned to a sheet of ice. Drivers who had been on the roads for hours were now tired. Some, who had slid off the road, abandoned their vehicles – both on and off the roadway. Others who ran out of gas did the same. Others were taking bathroom breaks in the median. Just to give some perspective, it took an hour to get from Brier Creek plaza to the Angus Barn, which is less than a mile.
I ended up taking the Ebenezer Church (aka ice skating rink) shortcut since it had almost been 5 hours when I reached its turnoff. I decided it was worth the risk to avoid probably at least another two hours sitting on the road. There were about 30 abandoned cars/trucks and 4 deer on and off the sides of the road and it was pretty much a solid sheet of ice with patches of black ice thrown in on the bare patches.
By the time I got in the garage, it had been 5 hours and 20 minutes since I pulled out of the Duke parking lot. Unbelievable. My previous record was 3 and a half hours driving to work in Buffalo during a blizzard! Who would have thought that this record would be surpassed by measly flurries? Only in NC!
Unfortunately, I was not the worst case scenario. Others were stuck in their cars for upwards of 12 hours and a coworker of mine took over 7 hours to get home.