As Gov. Nikki Haley warned South Carolinians to “hunker down” during the winter storm Wednesday, at least a quarter-million households had no other choice. They had lost power, and roads were treacherous either from an ice-sleet mix or from debris from falling trees.
Most of the more than 254,000 customers who lost power early in the major ice storm lived in a wide swath from Aiken and Allendale through Clarendon and Berkeley counties. Meanwhile, the swath along I-20 got mostly sleet and the upper half of the state mostly snow in the morning and early afternoon.
A quick look at the power outage information from SCE&G, Duke Energy and the electric co-ops made it clear you would much rather have sleet and snow than freezing rain. But the National Weather Service expected freezing rain to start in the afternoon and continue through midnight in most areas of the Midlands.
Final ice accumulations were expected to range from more than an inch in the areas hit hardest early in the day to about half an inch just above I-20. Snow accumulations were expected to range from an inch in the southern Midlands up to 10 inches in the mountains.
“Please hunker down and stay at home,” Haley said at a news conference held at the state Emergency Operations Center in Lexington County. “This is not the time to go out. ... This is all about safety. This is all about keeping people off the roads.”
While the roads were slightly icy in Dorchester and Berkeley counties, the real problem for drivers was the debris from falling tree limbs, according to Mario Formisano, director of the Dorchester County Emergency Management Division. Large limbs and some entire trees fell on power lines and littered roadways, said Tom Smith, director of the Berkeley County Emergency Preparedness Department.
The tree limbs were breaking with such force, they created pops that residents said sounded like gunfire, Smith said.
At 2:30 p.m., SCE&G reported almost 97,000 customers without power, including about 39,000 in Dorchester County. The electrical co-ops were reporting about 104,000 customers without power, including about 33,157 in the Berkeley co-op covering Berkeley, Charleston and Dorchester counties and 24,008 in Santee co-op covering Clarendon, Florence, Georgetown and Williamsburg counties. And Duke Energy reported about almost 30,000 customers, most in the Pee Dee.
But at the same time, Duke Energy had only about 150 customers without power in its Upstate South Carolina and central North Carolina network, which was getting heavy snowfall but little ice.
Haley compared the current storm to the 2004 ice storm that knocked out power to nearly 200,000 people in central South Carolina. Some waited more than a week for power to be restored. But the ferocity of that storm surprised many officials. This one was forecast long before it hit, and power companies called in help from other states.
The full impact this time won’t be clear until midday Thursday, after a last gasp of snow is expected to finish off a two-wave, 48-hour storm. Temperatures are expected to rise to around 40 late Thursday afternoon, and then to near 50 on Friday, meaning road conditions should improve quickly.
Power outages update 8:30 p.m. Wednesday
Just under 75,000 South Carolina SCE&G customers remained without power Wednesday nighy; 941 were in Richland County and 253 in Lexington County. The hardest hit county continued to be Dorchester County were more than 25,000 SCE&G customers remained in the dark Wednesday night.
The greatest number of Duke Power’s SC customers without power were the 18,792 in Florence County, 12,625 in Sumter County and 12,456 in Marion County.
Kristy Rupon and Roddie Burris contributed.