One for the books

Ten years ago, ice storm paralyzed city, region
Dec. 03, 2012 @ 03:22 PM

High Pointers basking in temperatures this week more like late summer or early spring may find it hard to fathom that, 10 years ago today, the region coped with a crippling ice storm that became one for the weather history books.
On Dec. 4-5, 2002, a ferocious late fall storm brought bone-chilling temperatures and hours of freezing rain, then snow, to the area. When the storm finally pushed out late in the day on Dec. 5, 2002, the freezing rain had encased trees and power lines in thick ice. The central Piedmont built up ice accumulation of half an inch to 1 inch, then snow and sleet totals up to 3 inches on top of the ice, according to National Weather Service records.
Tree limbs, many still laden with leaves that provided extra weight, cracked and brought down utility lines, leaving tens of thousands of area residents without power for a period of days, up to a week. Temperatures didn’t immediately push much higher than the freezing mark for days after the storm, complicating the misery, as power crews from across the country came to the Piedmont to restore electricity.
While other ice storms have hit the region in the past 10 years, none has involved the destructive, wide scope as the one during the first week of December 2002. The storm took out power to 25,000 of the city of High Point Electric Utilities Department’s 39,000 electric customers at the time.
City Manager Strib Boynton said the response from public power utility crews in other parts of the state to help High Point 10 years ago show that mutual aid agreements pay off in emergencies among municipal power systems in North Carolina.
“It also shows how critical and important our investment in tree-trimming is. Power lines often are brought down by branches and limbs over lines,” Boynton said. “The tree-trimming investment we make every year helps prevents problems.”
The ice storm 10 years ago was unprecedented in its timing, said Phillip Badgett, a senior meteorologist with the National Weather Service office in Raleigh.
Going back 100 years, weather records don’t show an ice storm as severe as the one in early December 2002 taking place in the late fall, said Badgett, who was part of a case study by meteorologists of the storm.
“It would be considered an unusually severe event even during the winter season,” Badgett said, adding that most ice storms in the Piedmont happen between mid-December and mid-February.
pjohnson@hpe.com | 888-3528