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Snow a long time coming, brings joy and problems

Henry Augenstein, 11, and his sister at Mary Legare Augenstein sled down a snowy hill at Crayton Middle School in Columbia on Saturday.
Henry Augenstein, 11, and his sister at Mary Legare Augenstein sled down a snowy hill at Crayton Middle School in Columbia on Saturday. The State

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The snow started earlier than expected Friday and came down hard and thick in the Midlands, as if the skies were releasing years of pent-up flakes.

With the sun out Saturday, the meltdown began and took its toll -- but not before residents across the Midlands and state had their fun in the history-making snowfall.

According to the daily climate summary at the National Weather Service, the official snow total for Columbia (meaning Columbia Metropolitan Airport) is 8.6 inches. That makes it the fifth highest snowfall in Columbia history.

The first major snowfall in Columbia in seven years shattered the forecast estimate of 1-3 inches. The storm left the Midlands shortly after midnight and was gone from the state by mid-morning.

"This is so nice, with the white on the tree limbs and on the ground," said USC junior Carley Peace of Lexington after she posed for pictures under a snow-covered tree.

Across the street in the Horseshoe, more than 100 students built snowmen, tossed snowballs and generally acted giddy.

Paul Ryan, a senior from Florida, was at a distinct disadvantage in a snowball fight with three fellow students from northern climes. "We had to teach him how to make a snowball," said Michelle Budreau, a senior from New York.

None of the USC students had seen snow like this on campus. The last time Columbia got more than an inch of snow was Jan. 23, 2003, when 3.4 inches fell.

Most of the state woke up Saturday morning to a coating of snow. With a chance for icy roads, many events were canceled or postponed.

With highs forecast in the 40s for much of the state Saturday, roads should improve through the day. But shady spots likely will still have snow on the ground until Sunday night - when a second round of snow is forecast.

That's one of the most common snow threats moving in from the Midwest, the kind that seem to always peter out before they reach Columbia.

There is the possibility snowfalls could bookend the long Presidents Day weekend in the Midlands. But at least all the local schools and many businesses already plan to be closed Monday.

Numerous traffic accidents were reported across the Midlands Friday night and Saturday. Heavy snow wasn't expected until about 6 p.m. Friday, but the skies cut loose with flakes about 3:45 p.m. in Columbia.

By 7 p.m., the roads in the Midlands were getting dicey, with lines covered by snow and drivers inexperienced in snow driving with flashers on. Traffic cameras indicated the busy interstate highways were in better shape, but conditions were expected to deteriorate some as traffic on those roads died down and temperatures dropped.

Roads were in good shape in Columbia until temperatures dipped below freezing around 6 p.m. and the snow began falling harder.

The S.C. Department of Transportation threw all its resources at the snow, with 530 employees and 218 pieces of equipment (snowplows, salt spreaders, sprayers and graders). They were ready to apply 3,501 tons of salt, 1,323 tons of sand and 134,410 gallons of salt brine.

In the Midlands, DOT crews began applying rock salt to roads and bridges at 2:30 p.m. Friday.

The snow began sticking just as afternoon rush-hour traffic was dying down. Fortunately, most local schools released students an hour early Friday, and many businesses downtown allowed workers to leave early. For some, the memory was fresh of a similar 2000 storm that blew in off the Atlantic a couple of hours earlier in the workday and caused massive traffic backups.

One indication of where the snow was heaviest is power outages. Saturday afternoon, around 22,000 SCE&G customers were without power. Most were in the Orangeburg and Charleston areas. At the height of the storm that total was close to 50,000, with the Columbia and Lexington areas at one point with more than 10,000 without power.

Columbia planned to open a Daytime Warming Center at 2025 Main Street for people in need of shelter.

On the coast, the Myrtle Beach Marathon scheduled for Saturday morning was canceled.

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See the snow fall at Lake Murray

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See the snow fall in Lexington, Irmo

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Name this snowstorm

Washington D.C. residents were calling their last snowstorm Snowmageddon, Snowpocalpyse, Driftzilla and even "Snow-torius B.I.G." With the Midlands getting a bit of white stuff, what shall we name it? Share you suggestion below in the comments section.

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