Temperatures expected to be above freezing later today, but icy roads remain in Myrtle Beach area

troot@thesunnews.comJanuary 29, 2014 

Updated 11 a.m. Grand Strand residents woke up again to freezing conditions and icy roads, but temperatures are expected to get above freezing for the first time this week since the winter storm closed businesses, schools and government offices.

Most government offices plan to reopen Thursday, but Horry County Schools will be closed.

At 11 a.m., forecasters with the National Weather Service warned that icy roads could continue through Friday morning, making morning commutes dangerous.

In a special weather statement, forecasters said that ice covered many roads in the region and that "sleet had transition to a solid sheet of ice, one inch or more thick. Not traveling is the safest option."

Some melting was expected Thursday afternoon as temperatures reached above freezing for the first time this week since the winter storm moved through the area, forecasters said. But water left on roads will refreeze overnight night and could make conditions dangerous Friday morning.

Most of the ice will melt by Friday when temperatures return to the 50s, which are more seasonable conditions.

At 10 a.m. North Myrtle Beach officials reported that all ramps at the Main Street Connection and S.C. 31 remained closed because of icy conditions. Officials had reopened the Little River Swing Bridge at the Intracoastal Waterway, which was closed earlier because of ice.

Crews with the S.C. Department of Transportation were on their way to the North Myrtle Beach area to put salt and sand on the ramps, city officials said. City crews also were working to help improve road conditions, but officials said the slush on the roads from Wednesday's ice storm had refrozen into hard ice on area roadways.

At 11 a.m. Thursday, troopers in Horry County were working 30 vehicle crashes and in Georgetown County they were responding to five crashes.

"Large accumulations of sleet from [Wednesday's] storm cover many highways across the Eastern Carolinas this morning. In some places the sleet has become a solid sheet of ice, one inch or more thick," forecasters said in a 6 a.m. Thursday update. "Not traveling is the safest option. If you must venture out, steer, brake and accelerate gently to avoid losing traction on icy roads. Leave plenty of distance between vehicles to prevent chain reaction pile-ups."

Cpl. Sonny Collins with the S.C. Highway Patrol said area residents should avoid the roads early Thursday, if possible.

Officials with the S.C. Department of Transportation warned that many secondary roads continued to have ice on them from Wednesday's storm. In the Myrtle Beach area, DOT officials said road temperatures ranged between 18 and 28 degrees and crews were treating priority routes and bridges with anti-icing and deicing materials and equipment.

But secondary roads "are partially covered with snow and ice" where crews would turn their focus to on Thursday. Crews continued to work on rotating 12-hour shifts to treat highways.

Highway Patrol officials in Columbia said troopers responded to 331 incidents overnight that included crashes, assisting drivers and noting traffic hazards.

As temperatures lingered near 27 degrees at midday Thursday, forecasters warned the wind chill made it feel like it was between five and 10 degrees.

But temperatures should rise above freezing for the first time since the winter storm moved through the area, which will help thaw roads and icy conditions. Thursday's high temperature in Myrtle Beach is forecast to be 38 degrees.

However, the overnight low will drop back down to 24 degrees, which is expected to cause any water on the roads to refreeze, forecaster said. By Friday, most of the ice is expected to thaw as daytime highs reach 50 degrees. The warmer weather will continue through the weekend.

Collins said he expected Thursday morning's driving conditions to mirror Wednesday's.

“It will be identical conditions to [Wednesday], maybe even more ice because of people driving and roads getting slushy [Wednesday] then it freezing overnight,” Collins said midday Wednesday as troopers responded to nearly two dozen vehicle crashes in Horry and Georgetown counties. “They’re trying to keep the primary routes clean, but some of the secondary routes may be hazardous.”

On Wednesday, several vehicles crashed on U.S. 501 near the S.C. 544 overpass and troopers temporarily closed the highway for the safety of those responding and to prevent additional crashes, Collins said. Two tractor-trailers collided and as traffic was slowing several vehicles rear ended each other, which caused a chain reaction in the area.

“We’ve had no major injury incidents at all. Everything has been minor in nature at this point,” Collins said at noon Wednesday.

No major incidents were reported through 8:30 p.m., but troopers were steadily responding to calls.

Statewide, the S.C. Highway Patrol responded to 1,639 collisions and assisted 753 motorists between 4 p.m. Tuesday and 4 p.m. Wednesday. When icy conditions weren’t an issue during the same time frame last year, troopers responded to 378 crashes and assisted 226 drivers.

Snow and ice covered every major highway in the Myrtle Beach area, and a winter storm warning that had been in effect for the area since Monday was canceled at 10 a.m. Wednesday. But the icy conditions remained.

Myrtle Beach police closed ramps at U.S. 17 Bypass and Robert Grissom Parkway Wednesday because of treacherous conditions, Capt. David Knipes said.

“With more people hitting the roads thinking everything is fine, they’re finding out that it is not,” Knipes said. “Don’t drive, if at all possible, however if you must, drive much slower than normal, leave extra space between you and other cars and be careful. The roads are still icy and will be throughout the day and into [Thursday].”

The swing bridge in Little River closed about 3 p.m. due to ice, according to the North Myrtle Beach department of public safety, but reopened about an hour later when crews finished treating the roadway.

Ramps near the Main Street connector and S.C. 31 in North Myrtle Beach closed about 7 p.m. due to ice, according to city officials. It wasn’t clear when those roadways, which remained closed at 8:30 p.m., would reopen.

Forecasters recorded half inch of snow or ice in the Myrtle Beach area, while an observer in Loris recorded 1.2 inches at 7 a.m. Wednesday, according to the weather service. Other communities, their measurements and the time it was taken: Georgetown 0.3 inch at 11:30 p.m. Tuesday; Conway 0.2 inch at 7 a.m. Wednesday; and Garden City Beach 0.5 inch at 9 p.m. Tuesday.

No major power outages were reported in the Myrtle Beach area Wednesday, but officials said crews remain on standby to address any issues as the cold weather continued.

“Cold temperatures are expected through Friday morning as an arctic air-mass lingers across the Southeast United States,” said Steven Pfaff, a weather service warning coordination meteorologist. “Specifically, temperatures will remain below freezing through early afternoon Thursday. Temperatures are expected to drop below freezing again Thursday night into Friday morning.”

In Horry and Georgetown counties, S.C. Department of Transportation crews reported road surface temperatures between 25 and 30 degrees Wednesday and crews steadily worked to treat roads with salt, sand, salt brine and other anti-icing measures, according to DOT officials.

Flights also were canceled Wednesday at Myrtle Beach International Airport and passengers were encouraged to check their flight status before arriving on Thursday, said Kirk Lovell, airport spokesman.

Many area government offices and schools remained closed on Wednesday, but Horry County officials opened at 12 p.m. after the county’s emergency operations center closed.

Myrtle Beach crews put sand at intersections to help drivers deal with the ice, city spokesman Mark Kruea said.

“We don’t have sand spreaders so it’s a manual operation,” he said. “There’s not much traffic out there.”

In Myrtle Beach, trash removal was canceled Wednesday, but both zones three and four will be collected Thursday and possibly Friday if necessary to collect it at all.

All youth activities through the city of Myrtle Beach for Wednesday were canceled due to the weather, but recreation centers opened on a two-hour delay. Any delays for Thursday would be made early Thursday, Kruea said.

“We would like to be able to operate [Thursday],” he said. “It will still be cold, so that’s a factor. We’ll see how much clearing gets done [from any sun Wednesday].”

Horry County emergency management planned to continue to monitor conditions, Horry County spokeswoman Lisa Bourcier said. Horry County court cases were not heard Tuesday or Wednesday, but the courthouse is slated to be open Thursday. Jurors who reported to a trial Monday are expected to be back at the courthouse at 9:30 a.m. Thursday.

County offices opened at noon Wednesday, mostly for those who rely on records and access to files, Bourcier said.

“There are tons of people who rely on the Register of Deeds office to open in order for title researchers to do work and record deeds,” Bourcier said. “There are some departments that will be busier than others.”

Plans to place steel girders at the intersection of S.C. 707 and U.S. 17 Bypass on Wednesday night had to be re-scheduled to Thursday night because of the weather, Bourcier said.

In Georgetown, Administrator Chris Carter said crews responded to a few scattered power outages that were quickly repaired. Georgetown police responded to two vehicle crashes with minor injuries that were storm related, Carter said. No major fire calls were reported.

Reporters Jason M. Rodriguez and Maya T. Prabhu contributed to this story.

Contact TONYA ROOT at 444-1723 or follow her at Twitter.com/tonyaroot.

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