Winter storm hits Clayton, but it could have been worse

sgilman@newsobserver.comJanuary 29, 2014 

Clayton residents awoke Wednesday morning to a winter wonderland, a rare sight in the mostly warm climate.

Street crews manned their plows Tuesday evening, working through the night and into Wednesday morning to clear main roads and side streets of the two to four inches of snow.

Clayton doesn’t normally plow after dark because parked cars and mailboxes can be hard to see at night, said public works director Tim Simpson.

“But the way the storm was coming in last night, we didn’t have an option of leaving it there till this morning,” he said. “When the traffic starts running over it, it tends to pack it down and turn it into a harder icy layer that clings to the pavement.”

In addition to street crews, firefighters, police officers and electric department workers were on duty throughout the night in case of mishaps.

But Clayton had no power outages or serious traffic accidents, said public information officer Stacy Beard. “It’s been a pretty good day so far, luckily,” she said on Wednesday.

Thursday then became the bigger concern for town leaders. Temperatures were expected to drop well below freezing, and even the salt wouldn’t be enough to protect the street from ice.

“It’s potentially going to be single-digit cold in the morning,” Simpson said. “The rock salt, or sodium chloride, just isn’t going to help for that early part of the day.”

Because of that, town offices opened two hours late on Thursday. The police department, community center, town hall and other town-run buildings opened at 10 a.m.

On Wednesday, the Walmart at 805 Town Centre Blvd. continued to sell large amounts of bread, milk and even beer but at a much slower pace than before the storm, said store manager Toby Williamson.

“It has been extremely slow customer traffic,” he said. But it is typical, Williamsmson said, for shoppers to rush for supplies before a storm and slow to a trickle afterward.

Oddly, large plastic containers with lids suddenly grew popular, Williamson said, explaining that customers began buying them for sledding since his store does not carry sleds.

“They’re improvising,” he said. “Someone even bought some clearance wreath containers.”

Children had plenty of chances to use those containers since Johnston County schools remained closed Thursday and Friday. Makeup days have not been decided, but the first will likely be Feb. 17 for traditional-calendar and year-round students and May 23 for Early College and Middle College students, said schools spokeswoman Tracey Peedin-Jones.

“However, we are still in the middle of the winter weather and do not as yet know the effect on school attendance,” she said. “The Board of Education has final authority over the calendar and has the authority to modify the calendar based on certain circumstances.”

While kids might enjoy the freedom the snow brings, adults might find it hard to navigate streets that have not yet been cleared. Beard said Clayton has 80 to 100 miles of streets to keep clear. The operation relies on a handful of plows driven around the clock by the town’s street crews.

The work is also expensive. Beard said the storm has already cost between $5,000 and $10,000 for labor, brine, sand, fuel and other expenses. Some of the electric workers, for instance, live out of Clayton. The town put them up in hotels for the night in case the power went out.

“If you factor in all those things, it’s probably closer to $10,000,” Beard said.

The town, she said, budgets for days like this, “So we’re not just having to pull it from somewhere that will hurt our services,” Beard said.

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