Motorists in the Myrtle Beach area are urged to use caution or avoid driving at all after Tuesday evening’s winter storm blanketed the area in ice through the night.
Ice accumulation also forced the cancellation of some Wednesday flights from Myrtle Beach. Passengers should check with airlines before heading to the airport, according to airport officials.
Winter weather that began sweeping through Horry County about six hours after a state of emergency declared by Gov. Nikki Haley took effect could lead to widespread, and possibly long-term, power outages on Wednesday, according to forecasters who say freezing temperatures likely will be gone by the weekend.
An updated forecast released Tuesday afternoon showed lower accumulation amounts for the Grand Strand than initially predicted, but forecasters with the National Weather Service in Wilmington, N.C., said impacts of the winter storm still will be significant.
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Ice accumulations along the Grand Strand picked up after about 6 p.m. picked up, and by about 6:30 p.m. traffic hazards were being reported on several bridges or overpasses, according to the S.C. Highway Patrol website.
The accumulation estimate – primarily freezing rain – for Horry County, was reduced to 1/2 inch along the coast, but Steven Pfaff, warning coordination meteorologist with the NWS, warned that amount could cause widespread power outages and dangerous road conditions.
Area schools, government offices, some area restaurants, businesses and malls announced closures for Tuesday and Wednesday. Horry County Schools may make up the days and have Feb. 17 and March 28 as possible days, according to a student calender on the district’s website.
At 9:30 p.m., Kirk Lovell, director of marketing for Horry County's airports said Spirit Airlines has canceled the first two inbound and outbound flights.
Currently the first flight expected at Myrtle Beach International Airport is slated for an 8:38 a.m. landing. The first flight leaving MIR is scheduled for 9:25 a.m., he said.
“On a regular basis we are checking and monitoring that the friction is acceptable on the runways,” he said. “We just checked the runway and will be checking again in about 20 minutes because the conditions are starting to deteriorate.”
Around 8 p.m. ice was reported on bridges that included the Socastee swing bridge, S.C. 544 bridge over the Intracoastal Waterway, Yohanna Bridge on U.S. 701, Waterway Bridge on U.S. 501, and Barefoot swing bridge in North Myrtle Beach.
North Myrtle Beach spokesman Pat Dowling said the Barefoot bridge may periodically be blocked so public works can treat it, but motorists will be alerted in the event of any road or bridge closures.
Crews with the S.C. Department of Transportation in addition to county and municipal public works were treating various roads with a sand mixture.
Horry County moved to Operation Condition Level 1 about 4 p.m. Tuesday declaring an emergency situation in effect.
Kelly Brodsky, with Horry County, said public works crews were treating heavily traveled, county-maintained roads and bridges with sand as needed and are prepared to remove any debris that may fall in the roadway.
Additional officers with the highway patrol, State Law Enforcement Division, Department of Natural Resources and soldiers with the S.C. National Guard were on standby to assist with impacts from the storm.
A winter storm warning remains in effect for the Myrtle Beach area until 6 p.m. Wednesday.
Officials warn that residents should prepare to be without electricity during the storm and the timeframe could be significant, Pfaff said. Blustery winds of 20 mph sustained and gusts up to 30 mph are expected, which will make it feel like about 10 degrees outside.
Power company officials reported to forecasters that more than ½ inch of ice can knock a power line down without any winds or trees interfering, Pfaff said.
“Our confidence level remains high that we will have a winter storm with significant impacts. It’s going to be extremely dangerous conditions especially for travel. We anticipate widespread power outages and it is possible we can have long durations of power outages,” Pfaff said. “We need to prepare for long-term outages in the hardest hit areas.”
Santee Cooper and Horry Electric Cooperative, said crews are preparing for storm related repairs. Mollie Gore, spokeswoman for Santee Cooper said crews from Florida and Louisiana are en route to South Carolina to help in storm repairs.
Santee Cooper asked customers to conserve electricity where possible to help meet increased energy demand from the cold nights ahead by delaying use of dishwashers and washing machines during peak hours in the morning before 9 a.m. and before bed time.
To report power outages to Santee Cooper, visit santeecooper.com/stormcenter or call 1-888-769-7688. To report Horry Electric power outages, call 369-2212.
The last significant storm with similar conditions was recorded in 2004, Pfaff said. But, unlike other winter storms that have dumped several inches of snow in the Myrtle Beach area, Pfaff said “this isn’t going to disappear like we typically see.”
“It’s been a long time that we’ve seen something of this significance especially along the coast,” Pfaff said.
Horry County officials started receiving reports of rain, ice and sleet midafternoon Tuesday, said Horry County spokeswoman Lisa Bourcier. She said crews expect more issues to crop up Wednesday, particularly debris issues, and said crews are prepared to handle the cleanup.
Bourcier said the planned placement of steel girders at the back gate project, at U.S. 17 Bypass and S.C. 707, is still on schedule to happen Wednesday night and Thursday night. Motorists will be re-routed around the project, which is scheduled to take place between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. each night.
Dangerous road conditions are expected to continue through Thursday into Friday morning, though the precipitation should stop falling before Wednesday afternoon.
Temperatures on Thursday likely will climb above freezing before dropping again Thursday night increasing the threat of black ice.
Horry County should completely thaw Friday when temperatures are expected to hit the 50s and Pfaff said the 60s are in sight on Saturday.
Transportation and emergency officials urged residents to stay home if possible.
Horry County and Conway police departments said calls will be prioritized as weather conditions deteriorate.
The potential for power outages caused the American Red Cross to announce two warming shelter openings Tuesday.
One in Williamsburg County is to be open from 4 p.m. Tuesday to 8 a.m. Wednesday at the Williamsburg Recreation Center, 2084 Thurgood Marshall St. in Kingstree. Another in North Carolina is at West Brunswick High School on Whiteville Road in Shallotte. The Brunswick County shelter is pet friendly, but others are not.
Nanci Conley, executive director of the American Red Cross’ Coastal S.C. Chapter, said volunteers are on standby, and they are ready and prepared to administer mass care in Horry and Georgetown counties if called for by emergency management officials.
Evacuees should bring things such as needed medicines, identification, extra clothing, pillows, blankets and hygiene supplies for adults and children. Evacuees should also remember to take any items needed for family members who are elderly or handicapped.
Reporters Jason M. Rodriguez, Maya T. Prabhu, and Vicki Grooms contributed to this story.