Second snowstorm of year brings Johnston to standstill

pseligson@newsobserver.comFebruary 14, 2014 

The snow hit Johnston County at lunchtime, and by 1:30 p.m. on Wednesday, the 911 call volume was already in the hundreds.

The double-whammy of snow and ice didn’t catch North Carolina by surprise, but its fast pace did catch many drivers off guard. Jason Barbour, the county’s 911 director, said most calls Wednesday afternoon were no-injury accidents involving drivers who waited too long to try to get home from work.

By 2 p.m., businesses that had shuttered just two weeks earlier for snow were once again closed; Market Street was empty and quiet by the time Town of Smithfield employees began shoveling snow off the sidewalks. By 2:30 p.m., the snow had turned to sleet.

Johnston County opened two shelters: one at Smithfield-Selma High School and the other at West Johnston High School. Johnston County also closed its offices early and opened an Emergency Operations Center as 911 calls poured in.

Johnston Health went to its severe weather plan, said spokeswoman Suzette Rodriguez. Volunteers and security officers with four-wheel drive vehicles helped ferry essential nurses and doctors to and from, and the hospital provided cots for personnel to spend the night, she said.

Kim Robertson, EMS director, said she brought in extra staff to handle the large volume of calls. The Sheriff’s Office helped take staff to-and-from home and work, she said.

Schools closed Tuesday and stayed closed through Friday. Students on the traditional calendar will have to make up the snow days from January and February on Feb. 17, March 28, June 12 and June 13. With Thursday’s closing, the school system finally had to cut into spring break; students and staff will now report on Monday, April 21.

Recovery from Wednesday’s snow and ice got a huge assist from snowplows and from rain that began falling Wednesday night. At 7 p.m. Wednesday, Market Street in downtown Smithfield looked like a skating rink, but then rain began to fall, and by daybreak, Market Street was easily passable.

Businesses and snow

The snow and ice had mixed effects on businesses.

Smithfield Pre-Owned Center is a used-car dealership on North Bright Leaf Boulevard. “This will kill us for a few days,” said owner Andy Salvatore.

February is when many people get their tax refunds, he said. “This is our busiest season of the year.”

The snow in January wasn’t so bad because January is the dealership’s slowest month, Salvatore said. “This one right here is the prime time, time to make money,” he said. “This is what sets us up to pay our bills for the rest of the year, and we have to save this money to get through the other months, so this just slows it down.”

On Tuesday, ahead of the worst weather, shoppers at Edwards IGA in Smithfield were clearing the shelves. When it snows, “I see total panic,” said manager Bruce Edwards, laughing. “People come in looking for bread, milk and stuff to make snow cream.”

Edwards said people buy anything and everything. “People buy a lot more stuff than they ever need, but they’re just afraid they’re going to get snowed in,” he said.

On Tuesday, Edward saw many buy food they wouldn’t have to cook in case the power went out.

As for business, “it’s all averaged out; it’s all about the same,” he said. The day before a snowstorm is busy, but then traffic slows to a crawl in the days after.

Edwards said he had to call in around seven extra workers for Monday and Tuesday. The store normally has about 15 people on staff at any given time.

Another business seeing a boom: Angelo’s Pizza on North Bright Leaf Boulevard.

Owner Brandon Turkmen said people are stuck at home so they order more pizza. His store delivers and stays open in icy weather.

“My drivers are pretty professional,” he said. “They know how to drive.” The drivers, he said, use four-wheel drive vehicles and only deliver within 5 miles of the restaurant.

The snow ups his business by about 15 percent, Turkmen said. But he would rather see no snow. “I hope the snow stops,” he said on Tuesday, “because I don’t want to people to get wrecked and (in) accidents.”

Seligson: 919-836-5768

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