COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) - Gov. Nikki Haley declared a state of emergency in South Carolina as a winter storm forecast to bring snow, sleet and freezing rain moved into the state.
The state of emergency took effect at noon on Tuesday as light sleet began falling in the state capital. The National Weather Service forecast snowfall of up to 2 inches in the Upstate with up to 5 inches in the Midlands.
An ice storm warning for the Charleston and Beaufort areas along the state’s southern coast was changed to a winter storm warning as forecasters predicted the event would bring more snow than ice. Forecasters said a quarter-inch of ice and between 2 and 3 inches of snow was expected in Charleston, where it has been almost four years since the last measureable snowfall.
Winter weather advisories were posted for the mountains and Upstate with winter storm warnings in the state’s other counties.
The precipitation was late arriving, but finally began spreading across the state as the sun set. The state Highway Patrol reported a marked increase in wrecks, as the snow started to stick and freezing rain started to coat bridges and power lines. Almost 40 crashes were reported in an hour in Spartanburg County.
The Ravenel Bridge in Charleston and others in the area were closed because of ice, isolating parts of the Lowcountry. Only a handful of power outages were reported Tuesday evening, but authorities warned lines could come crashing down as ice weighed down utility lines and tree limbs.
Haley’s proclamation said the storm “was expected to require assistance for stranded motorists, isolated citizens, medical emergencies, downed trees, road debris and power outages” beyond the ability of local governments to cope.
The state of emergency authorizes activation of the state emergency operations center and puts the National Guard on active duty. It also triggers state laws against price gouging during the storm and allows the governor to do whatever is necessary to protect the welfare of state residents.
Maj. Cynthia King, a spokeswoman for the National Guard, said the Guard has wrecker teams and four-wheel drive vehicles that could be called on.
Traffic was lighter than usual, but people were still at work in downtown Columbia at midday Tuesday, even though state, county, city government offices and schools were closed. The state General Assembly earlier canceled its sessions for the week.
The Department of Transportation had salt trucks and plows waiting at intersections near major highways. The department said crews statewide had mounted plows and loaded materials such as sand and brine on its trucks.
Volunteers bustled about the Oliver Gospel Mission in Columbia, stacking bread and toting cases of water bottles as the refuge readied for the oncoming storm.
“We’re getting inundated!” said Wayne Fields, president and chief executive officer of the mission that had put out a Facebook plea for help.
“We asked for water, bread, sandwich meat, flashlights, batteries and water and people have not stopped donating,” Fields said as a line of cars and trucks waited outside the shelter dropping off supplies.
About 125 men sleep at the mission each night but go elsewhere during the day. Because the storm has closed libraries where many spend their days, the mission was keeping its day room open through Wednesday, creating the need for additional supplies.