February 9, 2014

Latest on Winter Storm: Weather Service bracing for 'major ice storm' with 2nd wave

Updated 3:55 p.m. As the first wave of the double-barreled winter storm ran low on moisture in South Carolina Tuesday, forecasters got a better handle on the impact of the second wave on Wednesday - and the news wasn't good.

The National Weather Service expects "a major ice storm," with a one-inch coating weighing down tree limbs and power lines in a corridor from Augusta through Manning. Lexington, Richland and Kershaw counties are expected to get a little less ice, but the three-quarters-inch coating forecast for those areas is enough to wreak havoc.

The areas north of about I-20 that got a pretty coating of snow from 1-3 inches deep Tuesday are expected to come out best again on Wednesday, with up to 2 inches more snow in the northern Midlands and less ice than the southern Midlands. There's a chance of precipitation throughout the region all day, but the type of precipitation will vary remarkably by just a few miles depending on temperatures.

For the high population areas around Columbia and Lexington, the forecast calls for mostly rain and sleet until midday, when it'll turn to the freezing rain that causes icing. The freezing rain is expected to continue through early Thursday.

The freezing rain is forecast to begin earlier in the day and last longer in the Augusta to Manning corridor. The last major ice storm in the region hit a similar corridor causing millions of dollars in damages and knocking out power to tens of thousands of people.

For some Midlands residents, the first wave was fun. Light snow fell throughout the day just north of Columbia, looking pretty as it fell but failing to stick on the roads. Some locations in the crescent from Lake Wateree to Lake Greenwood got around three inches.

A quick check with state parks found Oconee (3-4 inches) and Paris Mountain (1-3 inches depending on elevation) closed in the Upstate. Lake Wateree (2 inches), Croft (1-2 inches), Lake Greenwood (1-2 inches) and Dreher Island (1 inch) remained open as of Tuesday afternoon.

Updated 12:10 p.m.Gov. Nikki Haley declared a state of emergency in South Carolina Tuesday as the worst of a two-part winter storm loomed on Wednesday.

With snow falling in the northern Midlands and Upstate, some schools and government offices didn't wait for the governor's declaration to take action.

Fairfield County sent home its workers shortly after 9 a.m. The city of Columbia sent its non-essential employees home at 11 a.m. Richland One and Richland Two schools announced early dismissal plans.

Most are assuming the region will be shut down on Wednesday as the worst of the ice and snow arrives. The National Weather Service has estimated from 1-4 inches of snow and up to an inch of ice across the Midlands, with the heaviest precipitation starting early Wednesday.

The state of emergency declaration means National Guard troops and equipment can be used by state emergency agencies. It also ramps up the activity at the Emergency Management Division's Emergency Operations Center in Lexington County.

While road conditions aren't expected to be bad for most of the Midlands on Tuesday, public officials opted to play it safe and send employees home.

Temperatures are expected to stay above freezing during the day Tuesday for Columbia and the central Midlands, which means the rain and sleet mix should continue. After dark, the mix changes to snow and sleet.

Freezing rain is expected to be the major precipitation type starting around sunrise on Wednesday and lasting up to 18 hours. Ice accumulations are expected to be the most damaging aspect of the storm.

Updated 11:40 a.m.Gov. Nikki Haley is declaring a state of emergency at noon today in preparation for an ice storm coming tonight.

"This is not the same storm we had a few weeks ago, where we were playing in the snow and building snow men," Haley said to a group of reporters Tuesday at the State House.

"This is an ice storm. We need everyone to be careful. It is not possible to drive on ice so don't try to do it," she said.

State government offices will follow the schedules for closing and opening of the county government offices in the counties where they are located, Haley said.

The biggest issue we are going to have with this storm, if we can keep everyone off the roads, be ready for power outages, because when you have this much ice, you're going to have a lot of ice sitting on those power lines."

Haley urged everyone to get home safely tonight, whenever they are able to, and stay off the roads Wednesday.

Updated 11:15 a.m.S.C. National Guard Spokeswoman Major Cindi King said they have wrecker crews ready for the winter weather throughout the state should the governor call.

Updated 9:30 a.m.The first wave of the winter storm is hitting South Carolina with more snow than expected, and the forecast for the second wave has been ratcheted up, too.

Snow fell Tuesday morning from a line along the Newberry and Fairfield county lines northward. The National Weather Service had expected a dusting to an inch in that area during the first wave, but the snow has widespread.

An inch was reported a National Weather Service volunteer station in the Fairfield County community of Longtown. Several sources report snow in Ballentine in northern Richland County. At Clemson, webcams reveal a dusting on grass surfaces but not on roads.

Fairfield County workers were sent home shortly after arriving, and several school districts in the area have announced early releases.

Meanwhile, most of the central and southern sections of the Midlands were getting a drenching of rain mixed with a little sleet. The snow in the northern Midlands is expected to turn to rain as temperatures rise slightly during the day.

But the National Weather Service warns the real punch of this winter storm will be the second wave, which won't begin until another slug of moisture comes through early Wednesday. By then, the air and surfaces will be colder.

By the time it's through Thursday morning, the one-two punch is expected to bring 6-8 inches of show along the I-85 corridor in the Upstate (10-plus inches in the mountains), 2-4 inches of show and one-quarter to three-quarters of an inch of ice in the northern Midlands, 1-4 inches of snow and up to an inch of ice in the Midlands south of I-20 and a light coating of ice in the Lowcountry.

Those updated forecast totals are all slightly higher than forecasted Monday.

"Hard to fathom winter conditions in South Carolina colder and snowier than those at the Winter Olympics," said Mark Malsick, severe weather liaison for the State Climate Office.

Updated 11 p.m.Winter weather is expected to begin Tuesday and continue through Thursday, according to the National Weather Service.

The NWS forecast for the next few days:

Tuesday: Rain likely before 9am, then rain and sleet. High near 36. Northeast wind 7 to 11 mph. Chance of precipitation is 80 percent. Little or no snow accumulation expected.

Tuesday Night: Rain and sleet. Low around 31. Northeast wind 9 to 13 mph. Chance of precipitation is 80 percent. Little or no snow accumulation expected.

Wednesday: Rain, freezing rain, and sleet, becoming all freezing rain after 7am. High near 32. Northeast wind 10 to 15 mph. Chance of precipitation is 100 percent. New precipitation amounts between 1 and 2 inches possible.

Wednesday Night: Freezing rain before 3am, then sleet likely. Low around 29. North wind 13 to 17 mph. Chance of precipitation is 90 percent. New precipitation amounts between a quarter and half of an inch possible.

Thursday: A chance of rain, snow, and sleet before 11 am, then a slight chance of rain between 11am and 3pm. Mostly cloudy, with a high near 42. Chance of precipitation is 30 percent. New precipitation amounts of less than a tenth of an inch possible.

Updated 5 p.m.As the winter storm system gets closer to the Midlands, the forecast gets worse.

The latest forecast from the National Weather Service moves the Tuesday sleet line farther south and bringing it in earlier than previously expected. Now forecasters expect a mix of rain and sleet all day Tuesday in the Columbia area. Go 30 miles north of the I-20 corridor, and it's a mix of rain, sleet and snow.

With temperatures afternoon highs in the middle 30s, most of the frozen precipitation in the central Midlands is unlikely to stick during the day Tuesday. But the temperature drops to around freezing after dark, and the precipitation turns to freezing rain for most of the day Wednesday.

The accumulation forecasts haven't changed much, with 1-3 inches of snow and some ice in the northern Midlands, one-quarter to three-quarters of an inch of ice in the central Midlands and slightly less ice in the southern Midlands.

— Updated 3 p.m.The National Weather Service has issues a winter storm warning for the Midlands, beginning at 7 p.m. Tuesday and ending at noon Thursday.

The NWS says snow and sleet accumulations of 1 to 3 inches in possible north of Columbia. And dangerous ice accumulations of .25 to .75 of an inch are possible throughout the Midlands.

— Updated 2:30 p.m. The winter weather forecast will be tweaked a few more times before Tuesday afternoon, but it's looking more and more like a major ice event for the central Midlands, including Columbia.

The precipitation is expected to start in the Columbia area as rain in the Midlands late Monday or early Tuesday. Some portions of the Midlands could get three-quarters of an inch of rain before the precipitation turns to ice around 11 p.m. Tuesday, according to the National Weather Service.

Then things get nasty. The freezing rain is forecast to last as long as 24 hours, with an 80-100 percent chance it'll last 12 hours.

The official forecast calls for one-half to three-quarters of an inch of ice accumulation, but ice forecasts are difficult. The ice could cause plenty of problems in terms of power outages and road conditions. When accumulations hit more than an inch, the problems can increase tremendously because even larger tree limbs and even weak roofs can collapse.

For instance, a storm in late January 2004 coated the corridor just south of I-20 with about three-quarters of an inch of ice and caused about $20 million in private insurance claims, about $28 million in government agency expenses and $15 million repair expenses by SCE&G. Tree damage was so widespread the state declared a forest disaster.

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— Updated 12:15 p.m.The state Senate called off this week's session, Senate President Pro Tempore John Courson said.

The decision was made after Courson spoke with other senate leaders at noon.

The S.C. House of Representatives is on furlough this week, though three budget meetings are planned.

The General Assembly did not meet in the snow storm two weeks ago.

Meanwhile, Gov. Nikki Haley will speak with S.C. emergency management officials this afternoon to get information on whether to declare a state of emergency, her office said.

The National Weather Service on Monday issued a winter storm watch for most of South Carolina.

The storm has potential for heavy snow (4-6 inches) starting early Tuesday in the Upstate, with ice the more likely threat in the central Midlands starting late Tuesday. The threat continues through Thursday morning.

Schools and employers will have some tough decisions Tuesday on whether to close early to avoid icy road conditions. The timing of the arrival of frozen precipitation could be tricky on Tuesday.

If the forecast is accurate, however, Wednesday looks like a stay-at-home day. Depending on accumulations, a late start on Thursday is a strong possibility.

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Accumulations are expected to be more extreme than the storm that hit the state two weeks ago. The Upstate corridor from Anderson to Marlboro County could get 4-6 inches of snow, according to Mark Malsick, severe weather liaison for the State Climate Office.

The northern Midlands down to about the I-20 corridor could get 2-4 inches of snow and an ice coating of one-quarter to one-half inch.

South of I-20, the precipitation is expected to be freezing rain or ice, with up to three-quarters of an inch of ice on Wednesday.

Those ice accumulations are enough to snap large tree limbs and even topple some evergreens that don’t lose foliage in the winter.

These systems also are bound for Atlanta, which suffered traffic chaos by a storm two weeks ago. This morning Ga. Gov. Nathan Deal declared a state of emergency this morning. Charleston also is in the forecast to catch some of this storm’s wrath. Ice on bridges in the Holy City closed some for days.

From the archives: Columbia's ice storm history 


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