COLUMBIA, SC South Carolina’s first winter storm of the season sent Columbia residents scrambling for supplies Friday as after-school care programs closed, basketball games were canceled and highway crews stood by in case of emergency.
Forecasters expected a dusting of snow overnight Friday and into Saturday morning in the Columbia area, but any snow that might stick is expected to melt by the afternoon with temperatures rising to near 40 degrees, according to the National Weather Service.
Overnight temperatures Saturday should drop into the 20s, creating chances that wet spots on roads and bridges will freeze and make driving treacherous.
Overall, however, Columbia was expected to escape the worst of the winter storm, forecasters said. A cold rain was all that fell Friday in Columbia, with some sleet reported in the northern Midlands.
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A winter weather advisory is in effect until 2 p.m. Saturday for Lexington, Richland and other Midlands counties. Light snow, sleet and freezing rain were predicted.
“We have been very lucky to have only been brushed by this,’’ said Doug Anderson, a National Weather Service forecaster in Columbia.
That’s in contrast to the Rock Hill and Greenville areas, where plenty of snow and ice fell Friday. More was expected overnight in northwest South Carolina as part of a large winter storm crippling much of the East Coast.
By midday Friday, ice and snow were coating parts of the Greenville-Spartanburg-Anderson area. Classes at many elementary, middle and high schools were canceled, and Clemson, Winthrop and Furman universities closed.
Power was out for about 30,000 utility customers, mostly in counties north and west of Columbia, according to a Friday evening update from the state Emergency Management Division. With heavy clouds and temperatures ranging from 27 to 33 degrees, conditions were ideal for snow in the hilly Piedmont region stretching from Charlotte to the Georgia border near Anderson.
By noon Friday, “significant snow coverage’’ had blanketed the mountains of Oconee County, according to the S.C. Department of Transportation. Snow and ice also were covering roads and bridges in Pickens and Spartanburg counties, according to the DOT. The agency was salting roads and using deicing equipment in an attempt to keep Upstate thoroughfares passable.
Snow and ice also covered roads in York, Chester and Lancaster counties. Fort Mill, Lake Wylie and Clover had the most early problems, said Chuck Haynes, director of York County Emergency Management.
“The further north you go, it deteriorates pretty quickly,” he said.
Air travel was also affected. Most flights in and out of Charlotte Douglas International Airport were canceled Friday.
Columbia escaped much of the worst weather because the area was sitting in a pocket between two winter storm systems: one to the north and west that stretches up the East Coast and another moving up along the Atlantic Coast, Anderson said.
Although Columbia residents didn’t feel the same punch as their counterparts in the Upstate, people prepared for the worst Friday as temperatures remained in the 30s for much of the day.
Many rushed to grocery stores, buying staples such as bread, milk, juice, water and meat. Some even bought dogfood for their pets, one store manager said.
“We’re maybe four deep on every register and our self checkouts are packed,’’ said Greg Lee, manager of the Food Lion in Columbia’s Five Points. “With sleet and rain forecast for Columbia, a lot of people are just being precautious.”
A similar rush on supplies was reported at the Publix on Gervais Street in Columbia’s Vista.
As a precaution Friday, some schools closed after-care programs and Riverbanks Zoo shut down. The zoo, which normally opens at 9 a.m., will reopen Saturday on a two-hour delay. Because of the possibility of overnight sleet and snow, the SAT scheduled for Ridge View and Spring Valley high schools Saturday was postponed.
Columbia-area school officials also postponed many high school basketball games Friday night. Some schools in northern Kershaw County closed early Friday.
Hope Mizzell, South Carolina’s state climatologist, said the frigid, wintry weather isn’t unheard of in the Palmetto State, but folks might feel less prepared this year. People are noticing the icy cold more after a balmy December, she said.
“It is a shock to the system,’’ Mizzell said. “We have had a pretty significant weather pattern change from December to January.’’
Just a month ago, South Carolina experienced record high temperatures, making December the warmest in more than a century. Temperatures on Christmas Day hovered around 80 degrees in Columbia.
On Friday, temperatures stayed in the 30s for much of the day in Columbia. The average high temperature this time of year is 56 degrees. Temperatures should reach the normal high by Tuesday.
The Herald of Rock Hill, The Charlotte Observer and The Greenville News contributed to this story.
Check thestate.com Saturday for the latest weather information.