Snowstorm of 2000 Caught Area By Surprise
The blizzard of 2000 - also known as the "Snow Hurricane" and "The Big One" - left a lasting impact on Moore County.
Overnight, the county turned into a war zone. Heavy snow downed trees, rendering roads inaccessible. Power lines were severed, transformers popped and water mains burst.
President Clinton declared Moore and 30 other North Carolina counties a federal disaster area.
Most of the county went days without electricity and running water. The cleanup took much, much longer.
The 20-plus inches of snow that buried the county was unlike anything ever seen in these parts - and according to the National Weather Service in Raleigh, may never be seen again.
"I think it would be fair to describe that as a once-in-a-lifetime event," said meteorologist Jonathan Blaes, adding that while he couldn't find the record snowfall for Moore County, he assumed the 2000 storm had to be close. "It's likely not to be seen [again] in our lifetime."
Blaes acknowledged that the event exposed a "failure" of the weather service's forecast models. While winter weather was predicted that Monday evening - Jan. 24, 2000 - he said a snow event like that is unprecedented. The storm also intensified more rapidly than expected, and sat over central North Carolina for a long period of time instead of moving out to sea.
He said the storm caused the weather service to refine its computer forecast models.
"A lot was learned from it," he said.
Mike Hughes, a spokesman for Progress Energy - known as Carolina Power & Light (CP&L) at the time of the storm - said the Sandhills region was the hardest hit of the company's service areas. In Moore County alone, 25,000 of 35,000 customers - households and businesses, not individual people - were without power at the worst point.
Three days after the storm, 15,000 customers were still in the dark and cold. Hughes said it took about a week to get power back to most places. Customers who experienced structural damage to their homes and utility boxes went even longer.
Hughes said ice preceding and following the massive snowfall compounded the problem. That ice turned the county's greatest natural beauty - pine trees - into its own worst enemy. He said their shallow roots make them extremely susceptible to tipping over completely, and in countless cases, they took power lines with them.
"It was really a mangled mess of trees and power lines," he said.
About 173,000 customers in CP&L's service area - which covered much of eastern North Carolina and northeastern South Carolina - lost power. Hughes said the company recruited some 1,800 linemen and tree crews from across eight states to assist with the restoration and cleanup.
Many of the repairs were temporary fixes to get power back up, and Hughes said it took "a period of months" to get the system completely corrected. He added that the company learns lesson from every storm, and continues to work to minimize power outages. It has enhanced tree trimming and maintenance along its 60,000 miles of power lines.
The storm closed the Moore County school system for eight days. Deputy Superintendent Larry Upchurch said staff couldn't access many of the schools, especially those in rural areas, for about four of them.
"It probably taxed us as much as anything that we have had to deal with as far as the schools are concerned over an extended period of time," Upchurch said. "It was such an unusual event for the county."
The county's 11,000 stir-crazy students returned to school Feb. 2. In total, 11 school days had been disrupted that winter - two days were missed the week before the storm, and a small storm forced the system to open two hours late the day "the Big One" hit.
While the Board of Education was able to make up the missed days within the calendar, it was an experience that Upchurch never wants to relive.
Former Moore County Manager David McNeill, now a member of the Southern Pines Town Council, said it was a storm you would expect in Buffalo, N.Y., but not here. He said "several years worth" of storm debris - three to four times a normal amount - was transported to the county's landfill.
He praised the coordinated effort that took place after the storm hit. The National Guard and Fort Bragg provided Humvees to transport residents who needed medical attention. The Guard even provided a helicopter for the search and rescue of those stranded in the snow.
"I think overall, it just showed how well people came together, staff and volunteers, to get us through a very difficult situation," he said. "There was great cooperation."
Contact John Krahnert III at (910) 693-2473 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
More like this story