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Just when it was safe to go outside in a light jacket, mother nature smacked the region with a double-whammy Monday evening resulting in a snow and ice storm expected to last at least through Thursday.
National Weather Service meteorologist Mike Proud said the weather was a result of a “one-two punch” of a winter weather front dropping down from the north and stalling over the area followed by a low pressure front moving up from the Gulf Coast.
“We’ll never really get rid of the first one before the second one comes in with precipitation that is going to continue through Thursday,” Proud said Monday.
The question was how bad the expected mix of sleet, snow and rain was going to be where.
As of Tuesday, forecasts ranged from two to six inches of snow over most of Lancaster County by Wednesday, with heavier accumulation in the Panhandle.
Temperatures for most of the week were expected to range from overnight lows in the 20s to daytime highs in the low- to mid-30s through Wednesday, warming to highs in the low- to upper-40s Thursday and Friday.
Proud said the “bad news” was the expectation for ice accumulation Wednesday through Wednesday evening, from two-tenths of an inch in the Panhandle to as much as a half-inch or more in the southern portions of the county.
“With wind gusts of 10, 15, 20 miles per hour Wednesday, if we’re getting freezing ice on power lines and limbs and such, we’ve got a real potential for a big impact on this storm,” Proud said.
Lancaster County School District Safety and Transportation Director Bryan Vaughn said he and other school district officials began monitoring weather conditions Monday.
About 5:30 a.m. Tuesday, after watching forecasts and conditions on the ground, the district decided to release elementary school students at 10 a.m. Tuesday and middle and high school students at 11 a.m.
Vaughn said the school district would have to wait to see how schedules play out the rest of the week.
“We know that it’s going to affect us. The problem we have right now is the timing of it,” Vaughn said. “What we’ll do is notify all our parents through the ConnectEd system and also use the media.”
Check www.thelancasternews.com for updates on school delays and/or closings.
As Proud noted, with so much ice and sleet, there’s a good chance area residents could experience power outages.
Duke Energy District Manager Rick Jiran said most of the company’s concerns starting Wednesday are with the transition zones between areas expecting snow and those expecting a mix of snow, sleet and ice such as Lancaster County.
Jiran said the company’s meteorologists would be monitoring the weather throughout the week and that its power crews were already preparing for the storm as early as Monday.
“We’ll be ready for whatever the storm brings,” Jiran said.
“Most of all, if people’s power goes off, we want them to call 1-800-Power-On,” he said. “Do not make the assumption that Duke Energy knows their power is out. Go ahead and dial 1-800-Power-On so we can make sure a crew is responding.”
Leigh Smith of Lynches River Electric Cooperative said cooperative officials from across the state coordinated Monday to plan strategies for dealing with any emergencies.
As a result, Smith said, local crews were already preparing Monday and the cooperative would have crews on standby should the local situation become extreme.
Still, Smith said, the cooperative’s preventative measures throughout the year should mitigate most problems.
“All year long, we do ongoing right of way management,” Smith said. “What that does is where there’s a possibility that a tree may fall on the line, we’ve already gotten ready for that threat.”
Smith suggested cooperative members visit the cooperative’s Facebook page at www.facebook.com/lynchesriverelectric, for tips on how to prepare “emergency packs” and what to do in case of power outages.
“The weather can change within a minute,” Smith said. “They’re predicting something is coming this way; whether its ice or snow, we’re ready and we’re taking it seriously.”
Lynches River Electric Cooperative customers in Lancaster County who experience outages are asked to call the cooperative at 1-(866) 675-5732.
Emergency Services warming shelter
Should power go out for an extended period of time, Lancaster County Emergency Management set contingency plans early in the week to establish emergency shelters according to need.
“Anyone who loses power or heat during the storm should contact Public Safety Communications at (803) 283-4136 for directions to the shelter,” Lancaster County Emergency Management Director Morris Russell said in a press release Monday.
“The Emergency Management office will continue to evaluate the need of shelter throughout the duration of this storm,” he said.
Roads, driving tips
Of course, another major concern with icy weather is local roads.
While S.C. Department of Transportation officials from the Lancaster County maintenance office did not return a phone call by press time, the depot, like other SCDOT depots statewide, was preparing to be out in force treating and clearing local roads throughout the storm.
Still expecting roads to be bad, S.C. Highway Patrol Lance Cpl. Billy Elder sent out a list of winter weather driving tips Monday.
Elder said the SCHP suggested residents not drive if they don’t have to, but if they do, there are several important things to remember.
First among them is to slow down – especially when approaching intersections, off-ramps, bridges or shady spots, all of which freeze first – and allow at least three times more traveling space than usual between your vehicle and another.
Elder said drivers should use their brakes carefully by braking early, slowly and gently, even if your car has anti-lock brakes. If your vehicle doesn’t have anti-lock brakes, gently pump the brake pedal to avoid wheel lock-up.
• Don’t use cruise control, avoid abrupt maneuvers, such as sharp turns, or hard accelerations, and even if you have a four-wheel or front-wheel drive vehicle, do not assume your vehicle can handle the adverse road conditions.
• If you start to skid: Take your foot off the accelerator, turn into the skid, and brake gently.
• If you get stuck, don’t spin your wheels, use a light touch on the gas and ease your car out. If that doesn’t work, use a shovel to clear snow away from the wheels and underside of car if needed, and pour sand, kitty litter, gravel or salt in the path of the wheels to help get traction.
• If you must drive, make sure you have the snow completely cleared off your headlights, which should be burning, clear windows, turn signals and brake lights so “you can see and be seen.
• Be more aware of what’s going on around you than usual. Look farther ahead in traffic than you normally do and watch other vehicles since their actions will often alert you to problems ahead and provide a split-second of extra time to react safely.
Even if you’re not driving, Elder said it’s important to be aware of the roads near your home, especially for parents.
“If you’re a parent and your children are playing in the yard, be cognizant of the road and mindful of where your children are,” Elder said. “You don’t want them sledding out into the road, for example, because even if most people aren’t out driving there will be some traffic.”
Contact reporter Reece Murphy at (803) 283-1151