- Associated Press - Wednesday, February 12, 2014

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) - Soo Keith left work in Raleigh a little after noon thinking she would have plenty of time to get home before the worst of the snow hit.

She was wrong.

Keith was able to drive only a few miles before she was forced to abandon her car and start walking, a blanket over her shoulders. Making it home more than four hours later, she compared her journey to the blizzard scene from “Dr. Zhivago.”

“My face is all frozen, my glasses are all frozen, my hair is all frozen,” said Keith, a 48-year-old mother of two. “I moved here from Chicago. I know how to drive in the snow. But this storm came on suddenly and everyone was leaving work at the same time. And there aren’t enough plows.”

As the winter storm slammed into North Carolina, commutes that took minutes turned into hours-long ordeals. The National Weather Service issued a winter storm warning lasting into Thursday covering 95 of the state’s 100 counties.

At least two people died in accidents authorities described as weather-related.

The storm had been forecast well in advance. Still, within an hour of the first flakes falling main arteries in the state’s urban centers turned into skating rinks snarled bo those trying to get home.

Traffic cameras in Charlotte and Raleigh showed traffic backed up for miles, recalling the mass paralysis that struck Atlanta two weeks ago. Many were already comparing the winter weather to big storms that hit the state in 2002 and 2005, leaving massive city-wide gridlock, children stranded at schools and power outages lasting more than a week.

In a sign of the gravity of the situation, Wednesday night’s Tobacco Road rivalry game between Duke and North Carolina was postponed after the Blue Devils’ bus wasn’t able to make it to the 11-mile drive from Durham to Chapel Hill.

Utilities reported about 100,000 power outages statewide - most in the state’s southeastern corner, where ice snapped tree limbs and power lines.

Up to 11 inches was possible from the mountains through the Piedmont. As much as 6 inches of snow was expected around Raleigh. Father east, coastal counties were coated in up to an inch of ice.

The sudden seriousness of the storm caught even Yankee transplant Caitlin Palmieri off guard. A worker at a bead store in downtown Raleigh, she said snow was already sticking to the roads by the time a co-worker called to tell her to hasten home.

“I pulled out of the parking lot, and I could feel my wheels spinning,” said Palmieri, 26, on her third winter in Raleigh after moving South from Clinton, N.Y. “It seemed like every other car was getting stuck, fishtailing.”

She was forced to park and walk back to work.

State Emergency Management Director Mike Sprayberry said transportation crews, Highway Patrol troopers and even National Guard Humvees were answering calls from stranded motorists, but there was no way to estimate how many were stuck in vehicles.

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