The extremely moist, cold air took longer than anticipated to get to the central Midlands Tuesday, pushing the anticipated arrival date of snow back and probably decreasing the amounts.
The National Weather Service update at 6 p.m. called for light sleet and rain in the area to turn to snow around 10 p.m. The moisture arriving then still could pump 2-4 inches of snow into the Midlands, said forecaster Dan Miller.
But the late arrival of the heaviest precipitation, combined with a warm layer of air sticking around longer than expected, could push the highest snow depths south of Columbia, Miller said.
Snow is falling from the upper atmosphere, but it’s melting in the warm layer around 4,000 to 7,000 feet, then refreezing into sleet or freezing rain, Miller said.
That layer in front of the cold edge of the system is expected to cool throughout the night. The timing will determine whether kids in the Midlands can build big snowmen or have a good snowball fight.
Whatever snow falls is expected to stick around for a day or two. The low Wednesday morning was expected to be around 20, with a high only around freezing and another hard freeze into the low teens Thursday morning, according to the weather service. The snow melt should begin when temperatures hit the 40s Thursday afternoon.
Gov. Nikki Haley declared a state of emergency in the state long before any snow fell. Anticipating an earlier arrival of frozen precipitation, some school districts in the Midlands took a snow day Tuesday. Others went with a half day as light rain and sleet began around noon with a forecast for snow starting around sundown.
But the sleet was lighter than expected, and the snow didn’t start until later than expected. By 5 p.m., snow was falling in a band across the north Midlands, from Greenwood to Rock Hill, freezing rain was icing up a band in the south Midlands, from Barnwell to Manning, but the central Midlands was getting nothing but a light rain.
Going viral: Watch this Vine (short 6-second video) of The Weather Channel's Jim Cantore kneeing a guy while doing a live shot in Charleston.
State of emergency declared: Gov. Nikki Haley declared a state of emergency in South Carolina on Tuesday that places the S.C. National Guard on active duty and sets up a state emergency operations center.
The S.C. Emergency Management Division can help local and county governments from the operations center. The National Guard can provide personnel and resources, including four-wheel drive vehicles and wreckers. Haley’s executive order also triggers state laws, such as those protecting consumers from price gouging.
The emergency declaration started at noon Tuesday. S.C. Department of Transportation crews are salting roads throughout the state, the state Emergency Management Division said.
Also the S.C. Highway Patrol along with State Law Enforcement Division and the Department of Natural Resources officers are heading to staging areas to help with accidents.
The S.C. Department of Social Services, American Red Cross and Salvation Army are ready to open shelters if necessary, the emergency division said. Meanwhile, the State Fire Marshal&s Office and S.C. Forestry Commission are prepared to aid personnel and vehicles as requested.
Airport delays More than a dozen flights into and out of Columbia Metropolitan Airport have been canceled as the winter storm bears down on the South.
Flights to and from Charlotte, Atlanta, Houston, Dallas, New York and Detroit have been canceled throughout the day and into the night. A couple of flights are delayed.
Travelers should check with their airline for up-to-date information on delays or cancellations.
The first flakes have been reported in Columbia, and the National Weather Service has reported some light rain in the southern Midlands.
The light stuff is expected to keep coming down through about 4 p.m., when the amounts will pick up. The type of precipitation ranges from rain to freezing rain to sleet to snow, depending on location in the early hours. It's supposed to turn to snow just about everywhere after about 6 p.m.
Forecast accumulation ranges from 2-4 inches of snow in the Columbia area, slightly deeper to the north and east of Columbia, where it's more likely to include a mix of sleet, ice and snow.
Based on the forecast, the roads likely won't get bad until right at the height of the typical commute period. But because so many people got snow days or are leaving work early, the roads should be less crowded than normal.
We are posted updates every 15 minutes from the S.C. Highway Patrol about road incidents and hazards across the Midlands.
Worry more about ice, officials say
South Carolinians might be excited about snow, but they also need to be worried about ice.
The winter storm almost certain to hit the Midlands and coastal regions Tuesday night and Wednesday will include a mix of ice and snow.
The ice accumulations, according to the National Weather Service, could be between 1/10th and one-quarter of an inch. On the high end of that scale, the ice would be enough to snap some tree branches, which often leads to power outages.
The icing period during the storm is likely to be at the front end Tuesday afternoon. That could mean power outages just as the snowy portion of the system arrives.
Heavy snow also can topple trees and crack branches. Most of the Midlands is expecting 1-3 inches, but the corridor from about 30 miles inland to about 80 miles inland could get 3-4 inches. And one computer model is calling for 4-8 inches in Georgetown and Horry counties, according to Mark Malsick, severe weather liaison at the State Climate Office.
"Models are still all over the place with amounts and placement of snow," Malsick said.
With temperatures forecast to remain near freezing all day Wednesday, the ice and snow should stick around for awhile. Roads, especially bridges and overpasses, are likely to be icy most of the day Wednesday and early Thursday.
SCE&G winter storm tips
• During a winter storm, ice can cause tree limbs and entire trees to break and fall, sometimes taking power lines and even meter boxes down with them. Always assume any downed power line you see is live and stay away.
• Should the power go out while you are cooking dinner, remember to turn off the stove and remove any cookware from the cooking surface and oven.
• It's sometimes hard to resist the urge to supplement a heating system lost during an outage, but household items such as cooking stoves or ovens and outdoor grills should never be used for heat. If you use a fireplace for heat, be sure to extinguish any flames before going to bed.
• Supplemental heaters and generators designed for home use should be used with extreme caution, paying close attention to the manufacturer's instructions.
• To report a power outage, you can call 1-888-333-4465. You can also report and check the status of your power outage online from your internet-ready mobile device or phone by visiting www.sceg.com/mobile and clicking on storm center. SCE&G’s storm center, www.sceg.com/storm provides information and links to help customers prepare for and deal with inclement weather and related power outages – information about how to report power outages and our process for restoring service to our customers, as well as important safety tips.
• Now is also a good time to register for SCE&G’s texting option. Head to http://www.sceg.com, login to your account and look for the "Activate Text Options “under the "Account Options” feature and then follow the instructions. If you are experiencing an outage, simply text the word "OUT” to 467234 (gosceg).
Please stay up to date with weather related and safety tips by following SCE&G on Twitter at @scegnews and on Facebook at SCE&G.
Elsewhere in the state:
In Myrtle Beach, reports of freezing rain are coming in to officials.
In Beaufort and the Lowcountry, more snow is forecast.