UPDATED 10 p.m. The year’s second winter storm seemed to pack a bigger punch than the first, hitting Horry and Georgetown counties with freezing rain that left thousands without power and downed numerous trees.
Dangerous conditions are expected to linger into Friday with refreezing of wet roads and walkways possible overnight Thursday, said Steven Pfaff, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Wilmington, N.C.
Horry County Schools will be closed again Thursday.
Horry County government offices and facilities along with all Coast RTA buses will be on a 2-hour delay and open or begin their routes at 10 a.m. Thursday.
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As of 10 p.m. Wednesday the South Carolina Highway Patrol had reported no bridge closures in Horry or Georgetown county, but reports of fallen limbs and trees continued, and crew still were working to restore power to some customers, according to websites for Santee Cooper and Horry Electric Cooperative.
Temperatures jumped above freezing on the Grand Strand during the day Wednesday, reaching as high as 34 degrees in Myrtle Beach at 3 p.m., but stayed below freezing in Conway, Pfaff said. Despite the slight warming, he said accumulations of ice are still occurring at elevated levels.
“We’re not out of the woods,” Pfaff said Wednesday afternoon. “The amounts [of precipitation] are starting to come down, but they’re still significant. Ice accumulations are expected to decrease into the night, clearing on the coast.”
He said a line separating freezing temperatures from the warmer areas was slowly moving inland throughout the day Wednesday, but pockets of frozen weather remained.
“Precipitation is expected to become light overnight with drizzle [on the coast] and freezing drizzle further inland,” he said. “Another wintry mix could be seen early Thursday.”
That mix is not likely for the Grand Strand he said, but could hit the Pee Dee.
All government offices in Horry and Georgetown counties opened late and closed early Wednesday as conditions quickly deteriorated. Schools in Horry and Georgetown counties were closed, as were Coastal Carolina University and Horry-Georgetown Technical College.
Gov. Nikki Haley and emergency officials urged residents to stay off the roads and at home Wednesday.
“The conditions looks like it’s going to be worse than 2004,” Haley said at noon Wednesday. “Please hunker down, stay home. This is not the time to get out. Please stay off the roads.”
During 2004, storm officials declared 17 counties, including Horry, eligible for federal disaster assistance and local governments received funding to help them recover from the storm.
Haley’s request for a federal emergency declaration was approved by President Barack Obama Wednesday ordering federal aid to supplement state and local response efforts. The order authorizes the Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to coordinate disaster relief efforts to alleviate hardship and suffering and to provide appropriate assistance for required emergency measures, a release from the White House states.
“Specifically, FEMA is authorized to identify, mobilize, and provide at its discretion, equipment and resources necessary to alleviate the impacts of the emergency,” the release said. “Emergency protective measures, limited to direct federal assistance, will be provided at 75 percent federal funding.”
Multiple power outages impacting hundreds of customers were being reported across Horry and Georgetown counties by midday Wednesday. Crews were addressing the issues as soon as they could, officials said.
Pfaff said anyone using alternate heating sources should use caution. Carbon monoxide poisoning and fires are risks and generators or space heaters should be kept in well ventilated areas away from clothing, curtains or other items that might catch fire.
The weather continued to deteriorate Wednesday as ice built up across the region, forecasters said.
“The worst case scenario has unfolded before us,” Pfaff said. “With the weight of ice, trees and limbs will continue to fall and these impacts will continue through at least Wednesday evening.”
All state roads remain open with the exception of Charleston’s Ravenel Bridge, which has been closed because of ice, Haley said. Bridges and roadways in Horry and Georgetown counties saw temporary closures from downed trees or ice and several traffic lights were malfunctioning from the power outages.
One fatality on Interstate 95 has been attributed to the icy road conditions, she said. To address those conditions, there are 1,500 S.C. Department of Transportation maintenance workers addressing road conditions with 4,400 tons of salt in the state.
“This is not a good day to have anyone out on the roads and we hope everyone will listen to that,” Haley said and noted there are 15 shelters open throughout the state. The American Red Cross opened a voluntary relocation shelter Wednesday at 4 p.m. at the Beach Church on George Bishop Parkway. A shelter opened at Pleasant Hill Elementary in Hemingway at 7 p.m. and Andrews Elementary School will open at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday. Pets, alcohol and firearms are not allowed at the warming shelters.
The Surfside Beach Fire Department was busy with several calls all day Wednesday, said Fire Chief Dan Cimini.
“It’s just unbelievable with all the trees down,” he said.
One woman was evacuated from her home on the 100 block of 13th Avenue South Wednesday afternoon. Cimini said power lines were down on her home. She was taken to a neighbor and was not injured.
More than 350 officers on 12-hour shifts are patrolling the roads in the state, said Leroy Smith, director of the S.C. Department of Public Safety. Troopers responded to 273 weather-related calls between 6 p.m. Tuesday and 6 a.m. Wednesday including 95 collisions, 27 abandoned vehicles and 108 assisted motorists. Statistics for the day Wednesday were not available at press time.
“We were ready for this event,” Smith said. “We’ve pushed copious advisories out to encourage the motoring public to stay off the roads and stay at home.”
The road surface temperature was between 28 and 31 degrees in the area and road conditions were being reported as icy, according to the S.C. Department of Transportation. Priority routes such as U.S. 501, and bridges were being treated with anti-icing materials and equipment. S.C. DOT said all major routes in Horry County were passable, but emergency officials said people should avoid driving.
“All motorists are urged to stay off of the roads as the threat of icy conditions continues to increase throughout the day,” said Derrec Becker, public information coordinator for the S.C. Emergency Management Division, in a release. “Ice can be deceptively dangerous, difficult to anticipate, and extremely difficult to drive on. Bridges and overpasses will ice first.”
An airport weather warning was issued Wednesday morning for the Myrtle Beach International Airport because of the threat of ice accumulations from freezing rain, forecasters said. Travelers should check their flight status before arriving at the airport.
A winter storm warning was in effect until 9 p.m. Wednesday for coastal areas of Horry and Georgetown counties, while the warning will remain in effect for inland areas of both counties until 10 a.m. Thursday, forecasters said.