Storm blankets area in snow, ice

jzou@heraldonline.com jmcfadden@heraldonline.comFebruary 12, 2014 

A mix of snow and sleet marked the second day of winter storm Pax, which is expected to continue pelting York, Chester and Lancaster counties through Thursday afternoon – worsening road conditions and raising the threat of power outages.

Across the tri-county area, all schools and government offices – with the exception of Rock Hill city offices – were closed on Wednesday and planned for continued shutdowns on Thursday.

President Barack Obama signed off Wednesday afternoon on Gov. Nikki Haley’s request to declare South Carolina a federal disaster area. The storm left more than 245,000 residents without power statewide by Wednesday evening.

Meteorologists expect a period of freezing rain turning into snow by Thursday morning with an additional 2 to 4 inches of new accumulations across the region.

“Trees and power lines could be coated with a glaze of ice,” said Bryan McAvoy, meteorologist with the National Weather Service. The forecast calls for an average of a quarter-inch of ice across the area, with some seeing up to half an inch.

Authorities advised residents to avoid unnecessary travel as road conditions become increasingly hazardous.

“I saw one lady go right off the road and into a ditch,” said Billy Rydza, who was traveling to work on Wednesday to Charlotte’s Steele Creek area from Fort Mill. “I was sliding all over the road and I was going slow.”

Rock Hill Police investigated more than 10 accidents Wednesday, while York police reported no major incidents. The S.C. Highway Patrol responded to several wrecks, but none with fatalities.

Dozens of commuters pulled off Interstate 77 to check into hotels near Carowinds in the hopes of waiting out the storm, according to Fort Mill area innkeepers.

York County officials scrambled Wednesday to adapt to the severe weather, setting up a 24-hour emergency command center in downtown Rock Hill to increase coordination among police, fire and EMS personnel.

Duke Energy reported a minor outage affecting fewer than 10 customers in York County on Wednesday.

Crews in Chester County set up emergency generators and furnaces for potential power losses at local shelters. By midday Wednesday, at least 60 Duke Energy customers in the county reported outages near Edgemoor, according to Chester Emergency Management Director Eddie Murphy.

Most local medical offices cut operating hours or closed entirely on Wednesday, which resulted in more residents that headed to Piedmont Medical Center for their medical needs, according to spokesperson Amy Faulkenberry.

“We had a lot of minor fender-bender accidents,” she said of hospital intakes. “Nothing significant.” Though she expects conditions to worsen if Thursday’s weather turns icy.

The hospital has enough fuel to run emergency generators for three days in the event of a blackout and has “tripled up” on supplies in anticipation of the storm. Staff members are prepared to work extended shifts and the emergency room entrance has been heavily salted, Faulkenberry said.

It was smooth sailing for the city of Rock Hill, which was the only municipality open in the region on Wednesday. “We consider all our services to be essential services for our customers,” said spokeswoman Katie Quinn of the decision to remain open.

City crews handled regular trash pickups Wednesday and plan to stay on schedule throughout the week, she said. Road crews are applying sand and grit to roads to provide traction on major thoroughfares.

The city had three snow plows in operation and crews will continue applying salt brine to driveways of emergency facilities.

The state Department of Transportation is continuing plowing and brine applications across the region and had 82 units in operation Wednesday.

“We’re getting lots of calls in and we understand the (secondary roads) are bad, but we just don’t have the resources to do the interstate, the primaries and the secondaries all at the same time,” said Jamie Fowler of S.C. DOT.

York Mayor Eddie Lee said the area has fared well by taking a cue from Georgia, which experienced gridlock after a storm earlier this month. “People learned from watching the situation in Atlanta a few weeks ago, everybody’s being careful.”

Officials hope warmer temperatures later this week will help melt snow and ice after the storm subsides Thursday.

Rachel Southmayd and Andrew Dys contributed to this report.

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