Sledders go airborne after piloting their mat over a ramp made of packed snow at Bond Park in Cary in December 2010. Scott Sharpe N&O file photo
Sledders go airborne after piloting their mat over a ramp made of packed snow at Bond Park in Cary in December 2010. Scott Sharpe N&O file photo

Weather

Think it’s too early for snow around here? These past December storms beg to differ.

By Josh Shaffer

jshaffer@newsobserver.com

December 07, 2017 04:24 PM

RALEIGH

With the Triangle buzzing about “nuisance sleet” and even the chance of a December dusting of snow, the chorus of winter-weather doubters is already shouting “Way too early.”

But longer memories will recall a year when snowy weather struck even before a single Christmas package had been wrapped, catching late-autumn loafers by surprise.

Here are a few of the worst early-bird storms to strike December:

Freak blizzard of 1989

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On Christmas Eve, the sand dunes turned to snow drifts on the Outer Banks as a powerful storm dumped more than a foot along the coast.

The beach hunkered down for its first White Christmas in recorded history, while coastal counties saw up to 15 inches of snow pile up. Further inland, Raleigh shivered through a 10-degree holiday, and power companies in the Triangle urged customers to turn thermostats down to 64 degrees.

The winter wonderland killed two people that year, including an elderly man who went outside to get kerosene. Utility workers scrambled to restore power.

Michael VanHook, left, holding his stuffed animal, walks with his sister, Sofia VanHook, outside their home in Chapel Hill in December 2010.
Staff N&O file photo

“Your nose freezes,” said Phil Williams, one of them working that year, “and it hurts.”

Wintry mix of 1998

While the holiday crowds fretted over President Clinton’s impeachment that year, a December storm glazed the state with ice.

Toppled trees and snapped power lines forced many people in the Triangle to do last-minute shopping in the dark. Nearly 200,000 people statewide went without power in the days before Christmas, and long icicles dangled from the branches that could bear their weight.

The upside: a thin layer of snow coated the ice, making crude snow-people possible.

“He’s got little eyes and a nose and arms,” said Sharyn Hickman of Cary, describing her 4-inch snowman. “He’s in the freezer now.”

Ice storm of ’02

Starting Dec. 4, an ice storm gripped central North Carolina, killing 24 people and leaving more than a million in the dark for as long as a week.

Some people recall thick tree limbs snapping all through the night, then waking to the sounds of chainsaws roaring through the debris.

At one Chapel Hill retirement center, temperatures dropped to the 40s inside some residents’ apartments, forcing some to shiver around gas-log fires, heat coffee with Sterno and cook outside on charcoal grills.

Others, desperate for warmth, heated homes with kerosene generators and propane stoves, even transporting charcoal grills inside. This led to many cases of carbon monoxide poisoning.

Big snow of 2010

The late-December storm didn’t break snow for Christmas, more like the weekend after.

but it sent hordes of children down Raleigh’s hills on new sleds, skis and snowboards.

It reached knee-deep, only one day late, but a reminder that storms can always make an early Carolina surprise.