THIS WEEK'S TOP STORIES
Weather: Snow and ice slip in behind arctic temperatures
By Emily Topper
Waccamaw Neck residents who dreamed of a white Christmas saw their dreams come true – a week late.
Icy roads, freezing temperatures and even snowfall greeted coastal residents early in the new year, resulting in school cancellations for Georgetown County students and staff yesterday and today. Numerous businesses also closed up shop early beginning Wednesday due to hazardous driving conditions.
By midday Wednesday, cars were covered in layers of ice and portions of the ground were frozen. As area residents hunkered down and bundled up, planned activities for the next few days quickly came to a halt. For the school district, that meant looking at concerns about the safety of students and staff.
“It may be mid day Thursday before the temperatures get above freezing,” Alan Walters, the director of safety and risk management for the school district, said.
Transportation, especially for students who take the bus to school, played a large part in the decision process.
“We have kids who have to go out in the morning and have to wait for a bus,” Walters said. “We looked at postponing the start of school for a couple of hours, but that bumped us into when the freezing rain was supposed to start. We also have to look at how we’re going to get them home. In the afternoon forecast, things are really going to get going.”
Around the county, social services organizations had begun to prepare
early in the week for harsh weather conditions. The Pawleys Island-based St. Christopher’s Children posted a request for donations of clothes.
“On an annual basis, we spend over $25,000 on clothing in general for kids in Georgetown County,” Kathy Vinney, the office manager at St. Christopher’s, said. “Last year we served 219 kids, and 188 of those were with clothing needs. The weather has a huge impact.”
Monetary donations, she said, are also helpful.
“They can donate online, on Facebook or on our webpage,” Vinney said. “We had some coats donated late last year. We’ve contacted all the nurses in the Georgetown County school system to let them know that we still have some.”
In Georgetown, St. Frances Animal Center is in need of blankets. The shelter currently houses 107 animals with another 25 in foster care.
“We are moving nine dogs right now from an unheated building into our main building,” Devon Smith, the executive director at St. Frances, said. “Our main building is only partially heated because our furnace went out.”
Smith said the center’s exterior pipes, used to clean kennels, are frozen solid.
“We definitely could use more blankets, large size for large dogs,” she said. “We need more 50-foot and 100-foot hoses to replace the ones that froze.”
Smith said it will cost the center about $6,000 to replace the furnace. The county is helping the center install HVAC into the unheated building, but the cost of electric for the HVAC will be about $4,000. In the meantime, the center has purchased space heaters.
“It’s expensive to be this cold,” Smith said.
As of Wednesday morning, residents were preparing for the evening’s harsher weather.
The day began with temperatures in the 30s, later dropping to the 20s. The coast saw freezing rain for much of the morning that iced the ground, later turning into sleet and light snowfall by late afternoon. The state coastline was under a winter storm warning beginning Wednesday morning and ending at 6 a.m. today. In addition to cold temperatures and heavy precipitation, the coast saw winds between 10 to 20 miles per hour.
Georgetown County reported yesterday morning that area bridges had been pre-treated for icy conditions.
In the early afternoon, snow reached Georgetown just before flurries began in Pawleys Island. Heavier snowfall was expected Wednesday night, with residents preparing for between 3 to 4 inches of snow. By Wednesday night, temperatures were expected to stay below 30 degrees.
As residents dealt with the hazardous conditions, the American Red Cross for the Palmetto region was on standby in case local organizations needed extra assistance.
“We’re staying in close contact with our community and government partners,” Cuthbert Langley, director of communications, said. “We will assist them as needed.”
The Red Cross sent out an advisory urging residents to use caution both at home and on the roadways.
Homes using space heaters should use extra caution and place the heaters on a level surface. Portable heaters are involved in 74 percent of fire-related deaths, with disaster-trained volunteers responding to more than 2,100 home fires in 2017.
While fire hazards are still present in winter weather, the Red Cross also encouraged home owners to check pipes to prevent them from freezing over. Pipes can be checked by running water through them.
With many area residents off the roads, some shared concerns about the freezing conditions — others looked on the bright side.
Avis Hutchinson said she was “hugging the gas logs with a blanket wrapped around my legs. I’m just glad I’m not a squirrel today.”
While native Southerners adjusted to the cold, northern transplants remembered their days in far harsher conditions.
“I’m remembering that it could always be worse, -21 degrees Fahrenheit,” Rhett McCarty said.
Former Northerner Jack McClenahan agreed.
“Hey, once we lived in Erie, Pa., which had 5 [feet] of snow a week ago,” he said. “This is a piece of cake.”
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