The South Carolina Upstate braced Thursday for the first winter storm of the year, with a dangerous mixture of ice and snow forecast for the I-85 corridor.
Winter storm warnings were issued for 15 counties across northern South Carolina, effective until as late as 7 p.m. Saturday, according to the National Weather Service. Up to four inches of snow and a half-inch of ice were expected to fall in Greenville, with up to an inch of sleet and snow forecast for Rock Hill.
“This has the potential to be a significant event,” Danny Gant, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service, said. In the Upstate, the storm might cause “widespread power outages, and the roads are going to be almost impassable.”
A weather advisory or alert was issued for nearly half of the state’s counties. In the Midlands, Newberry, Fairfield and Kershaw counties were under a freezing rain advisory until noon Friday.
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No advisories were posted for Richland and Lexington counties as of Thursday evening. But Richland County officials said freezing rain is a concern for early Friday morning in the county’s northern areas, and a wintry mix is possible in northern Richland County during the day. Up to two inches of rain are expected to fall in Richland County on Friday.
Richland officials said snow is expected Saturday morning, but the amount could not be determined on Thursday.
In the Upstate, officials said travel conditions might become treacherous Friday morning and continue throughout the weekend. School officials in Oconee, Pickens, Greenville, Spartanburg and Chester counties cancelled classes for the day.
Weather officials and the state Department of Transportation said the I-85 corridor would likely be “Ground Zero” for the storm in South Carolina. The DOT said road crews had already begun treating Upstate roads Thursday with salt brine, focusing on I-85 and the northern parts of Upstate counties.
Todd Cook, district maintenance engineer with the S.C. Department of Transportation office in Chester, said road crews were applying salt brine Thursday to prevent ice and snow from sticking. He said crews would continue applying salt brine during the storm, and would be out clearing roads if necessary.
“We always prepare for the worst and hope for the best,” Cook said. “We’re ready for it.”
Duke Energy, which serves several areas of the Upstate, said it was gearing up for the storm by calling in extra manpower. The company said ice and snow accumulations can bring down trees and power lines, and that power outages are expected.
The company said more than 1,400 additional line workers were headed to the Carolinas on Thursday to help about 3,200 Duke Energy workers who were already poised to respond.
While South Carolina prepared for snow and ice, other areas of the nation braced for potentially more serious conditions.
A historic blizzard is expected to hit the northeast beginning Friday, with the National Weather Service forecasting more than 2 feet of snow in Washington.
States of emergency have been declared in five states and the District of Columbia. Thousands of flights were canceled. In Charlotte, American Airlines canceled all of its flights on Friday. Typically, the airline operates about 650 flights a day at Charlotte Douglas International Airport.
The Washington subway system announced it will shut down entirely late Friday night and remain closed through Sunday. Underground stations usually stay open during major snowstorms.
The director of the National Weather Service said all the ingredients have come together to create blizzards with brutally high winds, dangerous inland flooding, white-out conditions and even the possibility of thunder snow, when lightning strikes through a snowstorm.
The snowfall, expected to continue from late Friday into Sunday, could easily cause more than $1 billion in damage and paralyze the eastern third of the nation, weather service director Louis Uccellini sad.
“It does have the potential to be an extremely dangerous storm that can affect more than 50 million people,” Uccellini said at the service’s Weather Prediction Center in College Park, Maryland.
Washington looks like the bull’s-eye of the blizzard, and New York City is just inside the slow-moving storm’s sharp northern edge, which means it is likely to see heavy accumulations, Uccellini said.
Weather Prediction Center meteorologist Paul Kocin estimated more than 2 feet for Washington, a foot to 18 inches for Philadelphia and eight inches to a foot in New York.
The snowfall could be as heavy as 1 to 3 inches per hour, and continue for 24 hours or more, Kocin said.
That could put this snowstorm near the top 10 to hit the East, with the weekend timing and days of warning helping to limit deaths and damage, said Kocin, who compared it to “Snowmageddon,” the first of two storms that “wiped out” Washington in 2010 and dumped up to 30 inches of snow in places.
States of emergency were declared in Tennessee, North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania and parts of other states, where road crews were out in force Thursday. Blizzard warnings or watches were in effect along the storm’s path, from Arkansas through Tennessee and Kentucky to the mid-Atlantic states and as far north as New York.
All major airlines have issued waivers for travel over the weekend, allowing passengers to rebook onto earlier or later flights to avoid the storms. The flight tracking site FlightAware estimates airlines will cancel at least 2,000 flights Friday and another 3,000 Saturday, which is the slowest travel days of the week. By Sunday afternoon, however, the airlines hope to be back to full schedule.
The Greenville News, The Herald of Rock Hill, The Charlotte Observer and the Associated Press contributed to this story.
How to prepare for the storm
South Carolina Emergency Management Division officials are asking the state’s residents to prepare themselves for power outages, problems with pipes that are not fully insulated and icy roads.
Officials also say that every household should have an emergency preparedness plan in place, which includes:
- Flashlights and extra batteries
- Battery-powered NOAA weather radio and a portable AM/FM radio
- Extra food and water, such as non-perishable, high-energy foods and snacks
- Extra medication
- Extra baby items, especially if you have small infants or children
- Basic First-Aid supplies
- Blankets, sleeping bags and extra clothing for warmth
- Charge all cell phones ahead of time
- Gather and store extra firewood in a dry sheltered area
To get the latest information on winter storms in your area, check out the National Weather Service’s website at http://www.weather.gov/cae/.