The potential for widespread power outages and dangerous road conditions are among the primary concerns for area officials as an arctic front pushes toward the Grand Strand.
A winter storm warning issued by the National Weather Service on Monday is in effect from 5 a.m. Tuesday to 6 p.m. Wednesday.
Steve Pfaff, of the NWS, said the storm could bring accumulations of freezing rain and sleet to the Myrtle Beach area, and increasing amounts of snow closer to the Pee Dee. Horry County could see 2 to 4 inches of sleet and snow, with 1 to 2 inches in Georgetown County, according to Pfaff.
News of the expected wintry mix prompted several announcements of closings for and postponements for schools, government facilities and events, including Horry and Georgetown County schools. Authorities also cautioned that motorist should drive cautiously.
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Though Pfaff said rain and snow could end by early Wednesday afternoon, he said the effects of the storm could linger into Thursday and possibly Friday, as freezing temperatures will persist.
He said the freezing rain could lead to the knocking down of large tree limbs and could lead to widespread power outages.
“It could create significant problems power wise,” Pfaff said.
Temperatures are expected to remain in the 20s Tuesday, with wind chills expected to be around 10 degrees.
“Problems on roads could last through Wednesday, possibly into Thursday and Friday depending on temperature and accumulation,” he said. “This amount of ice is just incredible for this part of the country.”
The storm threat led Horry County officials to move their operations to Operating Condition Level 3 on Monday, which means an emergency situation is likely or imminent, said Lisa Bourcier, Horry County spokeswoman. She said Horry County will likely move to OPCON 1 early Tuesday.
Georgetown County moved to OPCON 4 Monday afternoon and announced all county offices will be closed Tuesday.
Horry county has been planning since last week for the impending stormy weather, Bourcier said.
Unlike in many northern states where counties use a salt-based mixture to pre-treat roads, Horry County doesn’t often battle icy roads and so it takes more of a reactive approach with a sand-based mixture.
She said the county hasn’t needed to use the mixture for about three years and has enough to use on “heavily traveled, county-maintained roads.”
Those roads include River Oaks Drive, Carolina Forest Boulevard, Palmetto Pointe Boulevard. Most of the counties 700 miles of paved roads and 600 miles of county dirt roads will not be treated.
S.C. Department of Transportation has employees working around the clock and began pre-treating bridges and some roads Monday.
Across the state, S.C. DOT expects to use 56,900 tons of salt, 17,800 tons of sand, 214,000 gallons of calcium chloride (a salt water), and 290,000 gallons of salt brine.
In Myrtle Beach, city spokesman Mark Kruea said workers have sand ready to treat any ice patches and heavy equipment is available to handle whatever snow falls, though the city does not have snow plows.
City employees should call Tuesday morning to learn about any closures due to weather.
Bourcier said Horry County Emergency Management has been meeting with representatives from the NWS via conference call. She said closures of county offices have not been announced and said it is up to County Administrator Chris Eldridge to decide.
“We always have on-call public works... they may redo some of their scheduling based on the issues,” Bourcier said. “But, of course, we’ll have those public works employees and public safety employees working round the clock, if needed, as well.”
In North Myrtle Beach, a crew of 12 public works employees is on standby to deal with road problems, said Pat Dowling, city spokesman.
“Their sole focus will be to operate a motor grader, two backhoes, a front end loader, and other available machinery to help lay down available salt as the storm begins, and to move snow and lay down sand on major roadways in the city,” Dowling said in an email.
There are 150 miles of roads within the city limits, and officials deemed the following roads their first priority during the storm. They include: U.S. 17 from its interchange with S.C. 22, north to the second traffic light in Little River; the signalized intersections and their major side streets, such as, Sea Mountain Highway, Main Street, 27th Avenue South, 39th Avenue South, 46th Avenue South, 48th Avenue South; Ocean Boulevard, one lane in either direction; the incline leading up to the Barefoot swing bridge; and the Robert Edge Parkway out to the North Myrtle Beach Park & Sports Complex.
Crews will address other roads in the city as conditions allow, Dowling said.
Residents should prepare for the conditions and possible power outages by stocking up on heating fuel and having an emergency heating source; gathering their emergency supplies such as a flashlight, non-perishable food, water and first-aid supplies; and wrapping exposed water pipes, according to emergency officials.
Residents should also prepare for their pets and move outdoor animals to shelters with extra food and water and check on elderly and at-risk neighbors and relatives, officials said.
Drivers should plan for icy road conditions, Cpl. Sonny Collins with the S.C. Highway Patrol said. Troopers will be “constantly monitoring roadways for icing and working with transportation officials to treat those areas.
He suggested drivers slow down for wet, snowy or icy conditions and leave plenty of room to stop. When trying to stop, Collins said break early and slowly and don’t slam on the breaks. He also said don’t use excessive actions while steering, braking or accelerating to lessen chances of losing control of the vehicle. Turning headlights on will increase visibility to other motorists.
If your vehicle starts to skid, take the foot off the accelerator and counter steer.
• To keep warm, the American Red Cross said never use a stove or oven to heat the home and make sure space heaters are on level hard surfaces at least three feet away from anything flammable.
• Space heaters should be turned off and fireplace embers should be out before leaving the room or going to bed.
• Generators should be used according to manufacturer instructions and should not be operated inside the home including the basement or garage.
• Wearing layers of lightweight clothing to stay warm, according to the Red Cross. Gloves and hat will prevent losing body heat.
• Seek medical attention immediately for symptoms of hypothermia which include confusion, dizziness exhaustion and sever shivering. Watch for symptoms of frostbite, including numbness, flushed gray, white, blue or yellow skin discoloration, numbness, or waxy feeling skin.
Reporters Jason M. Rodriguez, Maya T. Prabhu, and Vicki Grooms contributed to this story.