Officials are preparing for winter weather to hit the Grand Strand on Wednesday, and all hands are on deck for the South Carolina Department of Transportation.
On Tuesday the National Weather Service out of Wilmington, N.C. issued a winter storm watch for Horry and Georgetown counties and surrounding area from 6 a.m. Wednesday to 6 a.m. Thursday.
Forecasters are predicting a heavy mix of snow, sleet and ice on Wednesday, with snow accumulations up to two inches and a ice accumulations of a light glaze. A light sleet and freezing rain could begin Wednesday morning and continue through the afternoon before turning to snow in the afternoon and evening, the briefing states.
Throughout the day on Tuesday, SCDOT crews are pre-treating bridges along primary roads and all of S.C. 31 from U.S. 501 to S.C. 544, Lauren Ward, with the SCDOT, said. For other roads, the department is planning to “wait and see” what the weather brings to the area.
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To pretreat roads and bridges, SCDOT crews prepare salt brine, a mixture of salt and water. When precipitation begins to fall, officials will switch to regular salt with some calcium to help keep the roads from icing, Shannon Welch, SCDOT resident maintenance engineer, told The Sun News.
“Everybody’s got something to do,” Ward said. “If they’re not out treating the roads, they’re making salt brine.”
Santee Cooper is taking additional precautions as well, preparing for major power outages in the event of bad weather.
“We are checking, stocking and fueling our trucks and our warehouses,” Susan Mungo, public relations specialist for Santee Cooper said. “We are also preparing our storm center. We will have crews in a little earlier but we are available 24/7.”
Mungo said that they are sending out messages to Santee Cooper customers, asking them for help in “staying off the power load,” which could result in small outages. This means limiting the use of large appliances and avoiding hot showers between the hours of 5 a.m. and 9 a.m. for the next couple of mornings.
If the forecast holds and the Grand Strand sees up to two inches of snow while temperatures remain below freezing, residents will need a lot of patience and probably four-wheel drive vehicles to get around.
Crews in North Myrtle Beach are on standby and will begin treating major roadways as soon as freezing rain or snow begins falling, said city spokesman Pat Dowling.
“People who are used to accumulations of snow on a regular basis, who moved down here to get away from it, may find that even a small amount takes a little longer to get off the roads,” Dowling said.
With two trucks fitted for snow plows, one motor grader and salt trucks, Dowling said the process of treating major intersections in the city will take about two hours. More salt will be added as the wet weather progresses.
“This is not New York City or some northern climate where we have dozens of snow plows dedicated for just this purpose,” Dowling said. “Because, obviously, we don’t invest millions of dollars in snow plows.”
In addition to major intersections, North Myrtle Beach will also be treating bridges and main thoroughfares.
Other cities, including Myrtle Beach, Conway and the Town of Surfside Beach, are on stand-by to see what the forecast will bring.
Both Myrtle Beach and Surfside Beach have sand on hand in case the roads get icy.
“City staff will be available throughout the evening tomorrow to respond as needed to weather conditions,” Mark Kruea, public information officer for Myrtle Beach, said. “If roads are icy, please limit non-essential travel.”
Conway is preparing ahead of time for the weather by having additional fire crews on staff, Chief Le Hendrick said.
“We have the capabilities, we’ll just have to wait and see,” Hendrick said in regards to the roads.
Cold week ahead
Beginning Friday and into the weekend forecasters are calling for temperatures to drop into the teens. Single-digit wind chills are expected starting Thursday night.
A detailed forecast calls for temperatures between 37 degrees and 17 degrees, not including wind chill temperatures. On Wednesday night into Thursday wind-chill values are as low as 10 degrees, with gust up to 22 miles per hour.
Last year the threat of winter weather cause SCDOT to prepare for the worst, but the Grand Strand ended up seeing little precipitation. This year there is a 70-percent chance that Myrtle Beach will see winter weather, according to the National Weather Service.
Staff reporter Elizabeth Townsend contributed to this report.