PICKENS COUNTY — The Upstate got hit this week by one of the worst winter storms in recent memory — even worse than the 2004 event that left some 200,000 homes without power — prompting Gov. Nikki Haley to declare a state of emergency and to urge South Carolinians to “hunker down.”
Haley’s state of emergency declaration on Tuesday triggered the state emergency operation center and put the S.C. National Guard on active duty. She said a request Wednesday for a federal declaration of emergency was “really more precautionary” in case the state needs anything to supplement what is already on hand.
During a teleconference Wednesday, Haley said the storm’s aftermath will be worse than what the state experienced in 2004 when 200,000 homes lost power, some for as long as a week.
She urged South Carolinians to “hunker down and stay home” and asked motorists to stay off roads and out of the way of first responders.
More than 4,600 utilities workers were spread across the state on Wednesday and more than 1,500 state Department of Transportation maintenance workers were working rotating 12-hour shifts applying salt and other anti-icing/deicing materials, according to the SCDOT website.
The state had 4,400 tons of road salt delivered, which Haley said would be enough to get through Friday. More than 350 state officers – including troopers and State Law Enforcement Division and Department of Natural Resources agents – were patrolling roads.
The state cannot prevent businesses from requiring people come to work, but Haley said she hopes business owners – and employees — listen to warnings about treacherous road conditions.
Overall, snowfall for Pickens County was estimated to accumulate somewhere between 7 and 9 inches with ice a possibility as well. Though the storm wasn’t anticipated to last more than 24 to 36 hours, the amount of snow is somewhat unexpected, especially for this part of the country.
“This is a pretty big snow event, especially for Pickens County,” Meteorologist John Tomko said Wednesday from the National Weather Service offices at Greenville-Spartanburg Airport. “Pickens should plan on up to nine inches of snow, and most of that will come overnight, despite what everyone was seeing in the morning.”
Power outages were reported sporadically across the Upstate at deadline. Local law enforcement, including the S.C. Highway Patrol, had issued travel advisories and suggested motorists refrain from travelling on Upstate roads unless “absolutely necessary.”
“With the way this storm has shaped up and the conditions locally, it’s better to stay off the road,” Tomko agreed. “There is going to be more ice toward the Midlands than in the Upstate, but that doesn’t mean the conditions are better.”
Duke Energy had about 3,400 restoration personnel in place as a winter storm began to move through its Carolinas service territory. The crews included about 500 from the company’s Midwest and Florida operations who will bolster the company’s regular complement of line technicians, service crews and other personnel. The company has the ability to move crews from both Duke Energy Carolinas and Duke Energy Progress, which serve a wide geographic area in North Carolina and South Carolina.
“We have seen outages in the Carolinas, but we expect the brunt of the storm to hit our region Wednesday afternoon and Wednesday night,” said Jeff Corbett, senior vice president of Duke Energy’s Carolinas Delivery Operations. “In areas where we have freezing rain and heavy wet snow, you should expect outages.”
But there is some good news headed into the weekend.
“The temperatures are going to climb over the weekend and we’re going to see what we’re used to here,” Tomko said. “By Sunday at the latest, all the snow will be gone and we should see a real warming trend with temperatures as high as 55 degrees. Overnight lows will still be in the freezing range, but we should be above average during the day.”
The Oconee County Sheriff’s Office took steps before the storm arrived to make sure that deputies had snow tires placed on their vehicles and to make arrangements for dispatchers and other personnel to be able to get to work safely. Deputies were patrolling the roads, assisting motorists and responding to calls at homes and businesses.
“If anyone is in need of law enforcement assistance in the county, please contact the Sheriff’s Office and we will respond to those calls,” Sheriff Mike Crenshaw said Wednesday. “The Sheriff’s Office has our deputies and dispatchers working their normal shifts and we are ready to respond and assist our citizens. If you have a medical emergency, please call 911 and assistance will be there.”
In the event you do lose power, AAA advises to avoid opening the refrigerator and freezer as much as possible to keep the temperature lower for a longer period of time. Unplug all appliances and leave only one light on to prevent a power surge.
Prevent pipes from freezing and bursting by keeping your home heated to a minimum of 65 degrees, open faucets enough to let them drip slowly and disconnect hoses from outside spigots. If pipes freeze, thaw them immediately or contact a plumber for help.
In the event you do lose power, utility companies warn residents to not get near downed power lines or attempt to remove downed power lines from vehicles, homes, or other structures. Instead, call your power supplier and report the downed line.
If you lose power, check with neighbors if you can to determine if they still have power.
Be sure to have warm clothes, candles, a battery-powered radio, plenty of blankets and other warm clothing, especially if you have children or elderly persons in your home.
AAA, the SCDOT and the S.C. Department of Public Safety advise motorists to not attempt to drive in winter weather conditions and to remember that if the driving conditions are bad for you as a driver, they are also treacherous for emergency responders and other law enforcement.