South Carolina closed out 2017 and began 2018 on a very cold note. As the year rapidly pushes toward an end, the state may have more winter weather in store – possibly as early as this weekend.
While in South Carolina, as we’ve experienced in recent times, hurricanes and flooding are considered more the cause for preparation, winter poses threats even in a subtropical climate known for heat rather than cold.
Look no further back than 2014 when the ice storm PAX resulted in more than 364,000 electrical outages and more than $260 million in damage throughout the state, much of it resulting from falling trees and limbs. The experience of watching and listening as trees came down or apart is not forgotten.
And a decade earlier in 2004, the ice was worse.
Before the freezing rain stopped falling, trees were coated with ice, the City of Orangeburg and surrounding areas were in virtual darkness, the few remaining operational gas stations were packed with people desperate for fuel and those without fireplaces or gas heat were looking for ways to stay warm in the icy cold.
The late Fred Boatwright, then manager of Orangeburg’s Department of Public Utilities, described the resulting damage and days of trials and tribulations as the worst natural disaster here in three decades – worse than Hurricane Hugo in 1989.
No wonder Boatwright described the storm as such. DPU battled for days to return power to thousands in Orangeburg. At the height of the outage, more than 18,000 customers were affected. Nine days, 32,000 man hours and at least $1.75 million later, DPU officials declared the power outage over.
Snowfall, ice storms and extreme cold can immobilize an entire region. Winter storms can result in flooding, closed highways, blocked roads, downed power lines and hypothermia.
Gov. Henry McMaster has proclaimed the week of Dec. 2-8 as South Carolina Winter Weather Preparedness Week. The South Carolina Emergency Management Division and the National Weather Service along with the agencies that comprise the State Emergency Response Team encourage everyone in South Carolina to prepare for severe winter weather by checking supplies and safety plans now, while the weather is mild.
• Include winter supplies like shovels and rock salt in your household emergency kit.
• Prepare for possible isolation in your home by having sufficient heating fuel; regular fuel sources may be cut off.
• Insulate pipes with insulation or newspapers and plastic and allow faucets to drip a little during cold weather to avoid freezing.
• Learn how to shut off water valves in case a pipe bursts.
• Portable generators are commonly used in the winter as a result of storm-induced power outages. Carbon monoxide fumes are odorless and deadly. Follow manufacturer’s instructions to prevent death from carbon monoxide.
• Make sure the fireplace has a sturdy screen to stop sparks from flying into the room. Ashes should be cool before putting them in a metal container. Keep the container a safe distance away from your home.
• Chimneys should be cleaned and inspected every year by a qualified professional. If not, they can become filled with highly flammable layers of creosote.
• Have your vehicle serviced to ensure it is prepared for the winter season.
• In every vehicle, place a winter emergency kit that includes: a shovel; windshield scraper and small broom; flashlight; battery-powered radio; extra batteries; water; snack food; matches; extra hats, socks and mittens; first aid kit with a pocket knife; medications; blankets; tow chain or rope; road salt and sand; booster cables; emergency flares; and a fluorescent distress flag.
Here’s hoping that our region and state are spared the worst winter can bring in 2017. But there is reason to be prepared. Cold weather can be very dangerous.