THE COLD WAVE

Bundle up: Deadly cold strikes Midlands

jmonk@thestate.comJanuary 6, 2014 

  • Countdown to a cold snap

    How low will it go? Temperature projections for the Columbia metro area by National Weather Service:

    Tuesday

    7 a.m. 14 degrees (1 with wind chill)

    10 a.m. 20 degrees (10 with wind chill)

    1 p.m. 27 degrees (20 with wind chill)

    4 p.m. 29 degrees (23 with wind chill)

    Wednesday

    6 a.m. 16 degrees (no wind chill expected)

    Later in the week

    There’s some good news ahead – from Wednesday on, temperatures will warm. Thursday, expect temperatures just over 50 degrees by midafternoon, and highs into the 60s by the weekend.

  • Record lows

    Jan. 6: 10 degrees, 1924

    Jan. 7: 16 degrees, 1924

This Big Chill can kill.

That was the message state and local emergency and weather officials shared Monday, as the Columbia area braced for overnight temperatures in the teens, with a wind chill below zero in the early Tuesday-morning hours.

The bitter forecast prompted Midlands-area public-school districts to institute a two-hour delayed start for students Tuesday except in Lexington 1, where students do not return from winter break until Wednesday.

Midlands governments planned to open on time, according to announcements made late Monday afternoon, but made contingency plans to help residents, including the vulnerable populations of the elderly and homeless.

Not since 1924 – 89 years ago – has the Columbia area experienced such low temperatures as expected Jan. 7. The record for Jan. 7 was 16 degrees in 1924.

“We’re looking for 15 degrees in the Columbia area, and in outlying areas to the north like Newberry it could get down to maybe 10-13 degrees,” Stephen Naglic, the warning coordination meteorologist with Columbia’s National Weather Service, said at a Monday news conference attended by local and state officials.

The most dangerous time period will be 1 a.m.-10 a.m. Tuesday, he said. A wind chill advisory has been issued for that time.

People who are outside without proper clothing – including gloves and headgear – can get hypothermia, which could result in more serious injury or even death, Naglic said.

Officials urged people to wear extra layers of clothing, keep furniture and clothing away from home space heaters and drive carefully with an eye on icy patches, officials said.

“It’s all common-sense stuff,” said Emergency Management Division director Kim Stenson. People should take special care to check in on the elderly and watch over children.

Temperatures will seem even colder because winds will be 10-15 mph with higher gusts, Naglic said. Wind chills are expected below zero in Columbia and some other areas of the state, according to weather officials.

“This is the first wind chill advisory this low we’ve put up I can remember,” Naglic said. “We’ve had the cold temperatures before, but not the strong winds to go along with it.”

Highway Patrol Sgt. Bob Beres advised motorists to take a blanket and food with them in case they are stranded, and to report patches of ice by calling *HP so sand crews can be deployed to treacherous spots.

“Anybody who is broken down, we want to get those people some help,” Beres said.

At Columbia Metropolitan Airport, personnel expect to be ready to go early Tuesday, with de-icing equipment available if needed, spokeswoman Kaela Harmon said Monday.

Reaching the airport on possibly icy roads for early flights promises to be “the biggest problem,” she said. Passengers should check airline and airport flight information before coming to see if the weather affects departures and arrivals.

In the city of Columbia, an auxiliary shelter at Columbia’s Martin Luther King Jr. recreation center near Five Points opened Monday for those in need of shelter, Columbia interim police chief Ruben Santiago said Monday.

City Councilman Cameron Runyan also said arrangements were made Monday to allow the homeless late entry into the city’s 240-bed winter shelter, and Christ Central Ministries would accommodate any overflow in other places around the Midlands.

Law enforcement officials in the city and Richland County also planned to check in on the elderly, either in person or by phone, to make sure they have what they need to ride out the extreme cold.

Early Tuesday morning, Santiago said, he plans to put extra officers on the road. In extreme cold, water pipes burst and can cause slick road conditions, he said.

Pet owners need to take special care of their animals and bring them inside if possible, said city of Columbia superintendent of animal services director Marli Drum.

If the pet has to be outside, owners should try to make sure it has a place out of the wind and bedding that it can burrow into, she said. Owners may want to put a sweater on a dog they take for a walk, she said.

Pets should also be given extra food because they need extra energy in extreme cold, and owners should take care not to use metal bowls for outside water because a dog or cat’s tongue can freeze to the metal surface, Drum said.

At the Columbia animal shelter, the usually open doors to a fenced-in outside area were to be closed Monday night, she said. “The most horrific thing you can do is find an animal frozen to death – so we don’t give them that opportunity,” Drum said.

Meanwhile, the S.C. Red Cross is standing by to provide a host of goods – including food, blankets and water – and services if need be.

S.C. Emergency Management Division director Stenson characterized his agency’s stance as one of “heightened awareness.”

“It’s the public that needs to take individual action at this stage – be aware of fire hazards, dress in layers, don’t go out if you don’t need to,” he said.

Columbia has hit 14 or lower only 102 times in 125 years and only five times this century, according to the Southeast Regional Climate Center.

Fortunately for the state, no precipitation that might freeze and bring down power lines is expected, officials said.

There’s some good news ahead – from Wednesday on, temperatures will warm and are predicted to go into the 60s by the weekend.

Midlands school districts

All Midlands school districts are operating on a two-hour delayed start for students. This affects all public schools except for Lexington 1, which does not return from winter break until Wednesday.

This means students who ride buses will report to their bus stops two hours later than normal and classes begin two hours later than the regular schedule. All morning pre-school classes for 3- and 4-year-olds are canceled.

Each district has announced separate arrival times for teachers and support staff, including bus drivers. Individual district protocols include:

Richland 1: All students and employees should report two hours later than their normal work schedule.

Richland 2: All employees should report two hours later than usual, unless notified otherwise.

Kershaw County: While student arrival is delayed two hours, staff will report at their normal time and breakfast will be served. Parents who need to drop off students at the regular time may do so as there will be on-site supervision.

Lexington 2: Administrators, custodians, maintenance staff and food service workers are to come in as regularly scheduled. Teachers, assistants and office staff report an hour late. All half-day classes for 3- and 4-year-olds are canceled.

Lexington 3: The two-hour delay is for students, teachers and assistants. Other staff will come at varying times as determined by supervisors.

Lexington 4: While students come in two-hours late, teachers and a few clerical workers will report an hour late, with all other employees coming in as usual. Morning classes in the Early Childhood Development Center are canceled.

Lexington-Richland 5: The two-hour delay is for students and all staff.

Newberry County: All students are on two-hour delay, but employees report at the regular time.

Staff writers Carolyn Click, Tim Flach and Joey Holleman contributed.

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