Overnight sleet and freezing rain created icy patches on roadways across the Charlotte area, including York, Chester and Lancaster Counties, Thursday morning and sent motorists skidding and flipping into hundreds of wrecks.
But after nearly eight hours of responding to crashes, police and other emergency personnel are getting a break, as temperatures climb above freezing and melting begins.
Forecasters say the worst is over for the Piedmont, with the temperature expected to climb slowly into the lower 40s by this afternoon and possibly to the middle 40s by this evening. Conditions are still bad in the foothills and mountains, however, where the accumulations of sleet and freezing rain have been heavier.
In York County alone, troopers responded to more than 50 wrecks before 7:30 a.m., mostly because of the icy conditions. No serious injuries were listed on the patrol's website.
Digital Access for only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
"Today, we've seen crashes on not just the back roads but on main arteries as more people are out," said Lance Cpl. Billy Elder. "Just because a roadway is well-traveled, doesn't mean it's safe yet with these conditions and the temperatures."
The iciest conditions reported in York County were in the northwest area, said John Wellborn of the S.C. DOT York County office. The S.C. Highway patrol requested the Pole Branch Road just northeast of S.C. 274 just south of the Gaston County line be closed because of ice after an incident, Wellborn said. It is unclear when that road will re-open.
"That area around the Buster Boyd Bridge, and in the area of Highway 557, both have been icy," Wellborn said.
York School district operated on a two hour delay, but all other area schools opened as usual.
Meredith Hall was less than a mile away from Bethel Elementary on S.C. 55 when a line of cars in front of her broke quickly and she was hit in the right rear corner of her vehicle.
Neither she nor her son riding in the back seat were hurt, she said.
"I'm mad at the school district, furious with them," said Hall. "There's a lot more people on the road because of school being open."
Hall believes traffic suddenly slowed down for drivers to look at an overturned SUV in the ditch. A sheet of ice covered the road where the accident took place.
York County Emergency Operations Director Cotton Howell said of more than 100 incidents, about 25-30 of the crashes resulted in damage to vehicles but no serious injuries. A couple of school buses slid off the road in Rock Hill, Howell said.
Most of the crashes were caused by black ice that started accumulating around 5:45-6:30 a.m.
"The thing about black ice is they're icy spots not everywhere," Howell said. "It makes it somewhat more dangerous because you may drive five miles and then hit 20 feet of ice. Black ice just looks like wet road."
The National Weather Service on Wednesday issued a winter weather advisory for snow, sleet and freezing rain, which is in effect through noon today.
For the rest of the day, temperatures will warm to the lower 40s and only light rain is expected. The drive home should be better with just wet roadways.
Preparing, just in case
Highway maintenance crews were not taking any chances Wednesday.
S.C. Department of Transportation crews on Wednesday laid down a pre-treatment of salt brine on Interstate 77 ramps and overpasses, as well as various roads around York County - including S.C. 901 and Carowinds Boulevard, DOT officials said.
Motorists are urged to maintain a safe following distance from the trucks when they are discharging brine.
Today's storm system was expected to change the dry and cold pattern that has gripped the Rock Hill area for several days. Temperatures on Wednesday morning dropped into the lower teens.
Another winter storm system is coming up along the Southeast coast and will bring more precipitation this weekend.
Most likely the precipitation will be rain, but there's a chance late Saturday and into early Sunday that the rain turns into sleet and/or snow, said Taylor of the National Weather Service.