Grand American Coon Hunt Association President David McKee wrote after the 2017 event: “If you have been attending the Grand American for any length of time, there is one thing you know – you never know how to pack for the weather! Tuesday night we came out of the woods from hunting around 10 p.m. and it was 66 degrees. Thursday morning at 5 a.m., it was 27 degrees with frost on the ground. The forecast was calling for cold temperatures and the word the kids love to hear – snow.”
Welcome to the weather extremes that January in South Carolina can bring. The state is subtropical, but the wintry conditions that have greeted the big dog trials in early January over the decades feel nothing like the tropics.
The years since 2000 offer excellent examples of the severe conditions winter can bring here. During Dec. 4-5, 2002, a large portion of South Carolina received freezing rain and sleet that accumulated to more than an inch and a half in areas of the Upstate. The impact of the storm on the public included several hundred thousand power outages, numerous traffic accidents, and many homes damaged or destroyed by falling trees.
Then came the Great Ice Storm of Jan. 24-26, 2004. It crippled much of Orangeburg and Calhoun counties. Locations from the Midlands to the coast experienced power outages that lasted up to a week. Prior to the January 2004 storm, high temperatures soared into the 60s across South Carolina – a reminder that the caveats of winter weather can strike with little advance warning.
A decade later in 2014, 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.
January is the most likely month for freezing rain and sleet in South Carolina, which develop as warm, moist air flows over the top of a cold surface layer in the atmosphere. The depth of the cold air at the surface determines the precipitation type that falls to the ground.
When the cold air is limited to the lowest portion of the atmosphere, raindrops that make contact with objects with temperatures at or below the freezing mark, including trees, power lines and roadways, become coated with a glaze of ice.
Sleet forms when the depth of the cold air is sufficient to freeze the raindrops into pellets of ice. While still a danger to travelers, sleet has a tendency to accumulate less on trees and power lines.
Frequently, however, sleet and freezing rain mix together to create an extremely hazardous situation leaving people without power for days at a time and making travel treacherous.
There’s also the reality of severe weather including thunderstorms and tornadoes – in January.
And occasionally, we get snow.
This weekend’s Grand American participants and visitors will get the cold side of January in Orangeburg. Snow on Wednesday is being followed by more wintry temperatures that will keep it around.
The forecast for Friday-Saturday calls for temperatures that are cold by Orangeburg standards (20 and below at night) but otherwise not bad by comparison to some hunts of the past during early January. And the hunters coming here from much colder climates will be able to say again that we don’t know what real winter weather is like.
But then again, the climate here is a primary reason the Grand American more than a half century ago chose Orangeburg as an ideal location for the dog trials.
The Grand American will go on this year and every year, whether the conditions are akin to fall or spring, as January can be, or like winter from another place – as is the case this weekend.
The operative word to visitors and home folks is “enjoy” – no matter the weather.