The big chill
Sarah Willets Staff writer
LUMBERTON — Robeson County residents had a rude awakening this morning — temperatures in the teens that will not rise much as the day goes on, and then will return overnight and tomorrow morning.
Students with the Public Schools of Robeson County were the lucky ones, getting to spend more time in their warm beds as schools operated on a two-hour delay because of wind-chill temperatures Southeastern North Carolina has not seen in 20 years. A decision about Wednesday’s operating schedule will be made later today.
Other residents did the best they could, dressing in layers, donning heavy jackets and gloves, and wearing scarfs and toboggans.
Temperatures had fallen to about 21 degrees by midnight in Robeson County, with gusts reaching 24 mph overnight. At 8 a.m. today it was about 14 degrees, but winds up to 11 mph made the air feel even chillier — about 2 degrees. A windchill advisory remains in effect throughout the state.
A sign on Roberts Avenue told an even chillier tale, saying it was 12 degrees at 7:55 a.m.
In Boone, temperatures plummeted to 8 degrees below zero with a wind chill as low as 36 below zero. Cape Hatteras saw the high end of the range, with temperatures hovering around 20 degrees and windchill around 6 degrees.
Thousands throughout the state are without power as a result of the cold front, but few Robeson County residents are in the dark. Duke Energy reported about 11 customers without power this morning in Fair Bluff, part of which is in Robeson County. A spokesman for Lumbee River Electric Membership Corporation said there were no weather-related outages but acknowledged that could change.
“It is one of those things we have to keep a close eye on any time the weather gets like this,” Walter White said.
Western North Carolina saw the most outages.
Forecasters say temperatures across much of the state won’t climb past freezing today. Despite sunshine, Robeson County won’t get much warmer than 27 degrees.
Residents were advised to cover up plants, open pipes to keep them from freezing, keep pets indoors and stay inside whenever possible.
Natalie Lewis, a Lumberton real estate agent, said she would be working from home because of the frigid temperatures.
“The only thing I’m going to do today is go out to Starbucks,” she said, bundled up at the coffee shop in two sweatshirts and fur-lined boots. Air coming through the door and drive-thru window kept the shop at a chilly 56 degrees. A barista working the drive-thru wore gloves.
Anna Gibson, who commutes from Hope Mills to work at the Starbucks, located on Kahn Drive, was grateful to be holding hot cups of coffee all day. She arrived at the store at 2 a.m. to redo some chalkboard signs before shivering customers arrived.
“At two this morning it was cold, but then the wind picked up,” she said. “I wore three jackets.” Gibson said employees working Monday night had to take down umbrellas in the outdoor seating area so the wind wouldn’t knock them over.
Ted Thomas said he had to let his car warm up for 15 minutes before driving to Lumberton to work on the new overpass at exit 22 on Interstate 95
He said he wasn’t surprised to be called to the job, but that some of his coworkers were “a little miffed” that they had to work in the cold. Thomas, who enjoys working outside, was cozy in long underwear, jeans and khaki overalls while they tried to get the heater going in their on-site trailer-turned-office.
Joe Carter, a retired construction worker, was among those relieved to be inside.
“… I am just trying to step out of the heat and dress heavy,” he said while enjoying a coffee at the Waffle House on North Roberts Avenue in Lumberton. “I’m glad I’m not still out there doing construction today. I worked with concrete so it would have been too cold to do anything today.”
In preparation for the icy weather, the Lumberton Christian Care Center relaxed its admission standards overnight and will continue to do so tonight. The 16-bed facility typically requires guests to receive clearance from the Police Department.
According to Leroy Dixon, the center’s manager, just two people had to turn to the shelter for help.
“I know I had heard that some of them had already made preparations to stay with family and friends so some of them already had a place to stay,” he said this morning. “Hopefully no one stayed out in the cold last night.” Beds at the center are first-come, first-served tonight.
The North Carolina Cooperative Extension is not expecting major crop damage because of the cold.
“Really, the only two field crops that are of concern right now are rapeseed and winter wheat, though both of those are cool season crops,” said Mac Malloy, a crops agent with the Cooperative Extension Service. “We will just have to wait and see, but they are in the early stages of growth so they would still have the ability to recover.”
Malloy added that strawberry farmers will be using row covers, but again stressed that the cold front was not a “drastic concern.”
Winds should die down tonight but temperatures could go as low as 14 degrees tonight and Wednesday morning. Robeson County should see some respite on Wednesday, with temperatures in the low-40s during the day and staying above 26 degrees at night.
A slight chance of rain is expected on Thursday, especially after 1 p.m., along with temperatures of about 50 degrees. Friday, temperatures could climb as high as 57 degrees. A moderate chance of rain will persist throughout the weekend, as will the 50- to 60-degree weather.
Staff writer James Johnson contributed to this report.
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