The Half Inch of Snow that Paralyzed Raleigh

November 21st, 2006

Back on January 19, 2005, Raleigh received an unexpected snowfall of less than one inch a few hours before the 5 o’clock rush hour.  The temperatures leading up to this day were persistently cold, creating ground temperatures at or near freezing and allowing the melting snowfall below motorist’s tires to freeze into an icy sheet on the roadway.  Just about everyone out and about that afternoon immediately had to drive with extreme caution as traffic jams and gridlock befell the entire city and surrounding area.  As darkness arrived the air temperatures dropped and further solidified the scenario that many Raleigh residents won’t forget. Many people became captives of the slick streets and roads for hours.  I was downtown right after the snowfall and documented a few of the common scenes from the day.

After witnessing all of that, I came to a conclusion that many people may not be aware of the benefits of driving in first gear in a situation like this.  For example, the following clip shows how my car was able to make its way up a section of South Saunders street without slipping.  Just about everyone else could not make it up this small incline without losing traction.

Many people felt that flooring it would get the job done. Granted, first gear isn’t always going to help, but its a better idea than that.


  1. Anonymous says:

    December 4th, 2010 at 11:07 am (#)

    My word, what a bizzare and surreal experience! It might not have been such a nightmare had it occurred at a different time of day, but the announcement of schools closing happened right in the middle of lunch hour. So, you’ve got all these people out lunching, when they realize they’ve gotta make sure their kids can get home safely. They clog the roads, block many buses en route to schools, and the ensuing traffic stalls cause the ice to further freeze so half the drivers can’t move or are sliding all over the place. Streets with hills have to be closed off because people keep sliding down, so everybody goes scurrying to find alternate routes. Everyone with a cell phone is on it, trying to find and notify their nearest and dearest, so nobody can get a signal. Took me 3 hours to get from work to my home less than two hours away. I’m just glad I was able to intercept my kids (one in a stuck bus who just happened to see me go by). Felt horrible for the parents whose kids had to sleep at school that night.

  2. Anonymous says:

    December 4th, 2010 at 12:32 pm (#)

    @ Lemelia Bonner: I WAS one of those kids who had to sleep at school that night. It was in 7th grade. I remember crying over the phone talking to my mom begging her to come get me

  3. Anonymous says:

    December 6th, 2010 at 9:21 pm (#)

    Awe. I miss the old raleigh skyline. DAMN YOU RBC!

  4. Anonymous says:

    January 5th, 2011 at 8:33 pm (#)

    I spent two hours at the foot of the Durham overpass, on my way home to Raleigh that afternoon. I’d left work in RTP at 3:30 pm. All the cars just stopped. There was no going anywhere. Everyone was out of their cars and sliding around on foot. It was very dangerous to be walking and impossible to move your car on the icy roads. No one could get over the overpass at all.

    I managed to slide the car backwards a little and took off to the right for Durham, looking for a place to stay for the night, knowing I probably wasn’t going to make it home that night. (I was right. It took some people 11 hours to get home!)

    I was fortunate to find a huge suite (two rooms, two TVs!) left at a Durham hotel. I didn’t have my credit card, but I had a checkbook. They would not take any checks. I asked if I could just stay in their lobby because it was an unusual circumstance — it was FREEZING out, and I couldn’t stay outside all night. They wouldn’t let me have the room until my husband faxed the credit card to them. Thank goodness we had a home fax. I don’t think they had a clue how bad things were on the roads. I thought they were pretty heartless.

    I had a horrible meal at their horrible restaurant that night. But I was lucky to have any food at all.

    The next morning, wearing the same clothes I wore the day before, I went to work. But I had no clue where I was in Durham, and I was lost for about an hour and had to stop twice! I finally showed up at work, and the only people there were those who stayed overnight in the office! I stayed and worked and went home later that afternoon.

    I grew up in the north where it snowed a lot, and I never in my life ever saw an ice storm like this! It was as if everything very quickly froze in its place. There was no rain or snow that I could see in the air — it had fallen earlier in the day and then just all froze in the afternoon. So it wasn’t like a typical ice storm like we’re used to outside of the south.

  5. Anonymous says:

    January 10th, 2011 at 12:11 am (#)

    This day was horrible and I remember it like it was yesterday. They were only calling for flurries and they said the temp was too high anyway… but I worked downtown at the time and we worked on the 5th floor and around lunchtime we were all standing at the window watching the snow blow around and it wasn’t even sticking but it was snowing more and longer than what we expected. So me and a few other of my co-workers that had kids in school decided we were going to go ahead and leave a little early. I knew it was going to be bad when I tried to get out of my parking space onto Blount St. and fishtailed. I was so scared….but I knew I had to get to my son that went to school off of Glenwood. As I started down Glenwood I decided to take a shortcut down a back road….oh boy…what a BIG mistake that was! 1st I was going at least 5 mph down a hill and lost control of my car and side-swiped a BMW. Out of all the cars to hit!!! Apparently I was not the only one, there was people everywhere that wrecked going down the hill OR people that just couldn’t get up the hill and were scared to try to go down. But there was a really nice couple that had opened up their house to everyone and was offering us soup! How sweet! Anyway…I got in contact w/ my sons father who at the time worked in Garner. I told him I was stuck and he left work to try and go get our son. While I was trying to get warm and make some phone calls someone hits my car BUT they weren’t as nice as me they decided that they didn’t want to wait around. O.k. so I decided I was going to try a 2nd time to make it home. By the time I got home it was around 9 or 10 and not too long after that my son came home. And if it wasn’t for his school and the wonderful teachers there. He didn’t even wanna come home lol. He said “mommy they popped popcorn and we were in the gym watching TV!” Well at least he had fun.

  6. Anonymous says:

    January 11th, 2012 at 4:16 pm (#)

    It’s funny because the whole mess was caused by Wake County Schools announcing they were closing early & sending the kids home. All the parents panicked and hurried out to meet them. But the traffic jam they created kept the school buses from being able to pick up the kids and a lot of the kids ended up having to stay overnight at the schools.

    I remember the day. For some reason I had a day off and drove down to Ft. Fisher to do some photography. The weather was beautiful down there and I didn’t know what was going on back home. Returning to Raleigh in the evening I finally heard the news on the radio just about the time I crossed US-70 south of Garner.

    As soon as I heard the news I found the traffic jam out on I-40.

    I managed to exit at Jones Sausage Rd and made my way over to Garner Rd. I had clear sailing following it down to Tryon Rd where I went across to South Wilmington and filled my tank with gas. Going north on South Wilmington to South Saunders to Dawson was clear all the way to Nash Square. I turned East on Morgan St, north again on N. Wilmington St and east again at Peace St.

    There was another traffic jam from in front of Peace College to Krispy Kreme Doughnuts on Person St. I got through that by going into the gas station and out onto N. Boundary St. Again clear sailing all the way around to Brookside Drive & home. I live up the street from Emma Conn School.

    All told, including the gas stop, it took me about an hour to get from the I-40/US-70 to Mordecai. I didn’t have any trouble with the roads. All I did was slow down & try to keep a steady pace. I drive a manual transmission and just taking my foot off the gas provided all the braking I needed in most cases.

  7. Anonymous says:

    January 29th, 2014 at 7:29 am (#)

    Yes…I just thought about this a couple days ago…it took me 7 hours to drive from downtown Durham to my home off Millbrook.

  8. Anonymous says:

    February 2nd, 2014 at 10:25 pm (#)

    Oh ; ‘ do they increase the speed limit to 80 mph ; when the road surface is wet , and it is snowing ?

  9. Anonymous says:

    February 2nd, 2014 at 10:29 pm (#)

    So ; that makes you a redneck ,and none of us give a hoot ‘; about rizzo ‘ .

  10. Anonymous says:

    February 16th, 2015 at 5:23 am (#)

    Let’s hope that today — 2/16/2015 — doesn’t turn into the same mess.

  11. Anonymous says:

    January 20th, 2021 at 7:31 pm (#)

    I’ve been looking for when this was for forever! I was in elementary school at the time. I ate animal crackers and apple juice for dinner and we all fought over the one pillow in the reading corner. Great times.

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The Half Inch of Snow that Paralyzed Raleigh

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