Forecasters predict snow, possibly sleet for Aiken area
Old Man Winter is expected to cover the Aiken area with a blanket of white by Wednesday morning.
The National Weather Service in Columbia is predicting 2 to 4 inches of snow, possibly mixed with sleet, locally.
A winter storm warning is in effect from 11 a.m. today until 9 a.m. tomorrow. Named Leon by the Weather Channel, the storm is threatening a long swath of the South from Texas to southeast Virginia.
In Aiken County, “we're really expecting the bulk of it (the frozen precipitation) to fall in the afternoon on Tuesday, but it could start as early as sunrise,” said Whitney Smith, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Columbia, on Monday.
Temperatures should be in the 30s for most of today. The low overnight will be around 25 degrees. The high on Wednesday will be 34 degrees.
The wintry weather might create hazardous road conditions locally. There also could be downed power lines and power outages.
Preparing for action
Yesterday, the South Carolina Department of Transportation, Aiken County's Public Works Department, SCE&G and Aiken Electric Cooperative were busy getting ready for the storm.
“We finally have all of our equipment prepared and loaded with salt,” said Bobby Usry, a resident engineer for the Department of Transportation who is based in Aiken, early on Monday evening. “We've got the snowplows on, and we've got tailgate spreaders to spread the salt. We are scheduled to begin a shift work schedule at noon on Tuesday, which means we'll have two, 12-hour shifts running 24 hours a day to treat roads as needed for the duration of the event. Our (the Department of Transportation's) priorities primarily will be the interstates and the primary roads.”
The Department of Transportation is providing several ways for Palmetto State residents to stay informed about road conditions during the storm.
Residents can visit the Department of Transportation's website, www.scdot.org, and click on the “Winter Weather Road Conditions” link. They also can visit the Department of Transportation's Traveler Information System at www.511sc.org.
The Department of Transportation has a free “SCDOT 511” smart phone app. In addition, travelers can call 511 in South Carolina on their phones to get information.
Public Works' approach
Aiken County Public Works Director John Dyches said the safety of the residents is the County's number one priority. He and his colleagues will work with the Department of Transportation to ensure the roads are accessible.
“Our concerted effort is to work with them to make sure we serve all the citizens in the County,” Dyches said.
The County does not have the ability to salt the roads, according to Dyches, but it has several prioritized routes that Public Works employees will go over with motor graders to push aside any accumulated snow. Roads that the County will work on include the 118 bypass, Whiskey Road and S.C. 125.
Dyches added that his crews will just scrape the outside lanes to keep traffic flowing.
He said his employees are prepared to work 12-hour shifts to make sure that they're available around the clock during the storm. Dyches is hopeful that not too much snow will accumulate on the roads. He said Monday's warm temperatures heated up the darker asphalts, which might lessen the impact that any frozen precipitation could have on the roads.
SCE&G issued a press release about winter weather safety tips on Monday. The company urged its customers to stay away from downed power lines, and to remember to turn off their stoves if the power goes out while they are cooking.
“Today is really about a lot of communication,” said Eric Boomhower, public affairs manager for SCE&G.
The company's customers can report power outages by calling 1-888-333-4465. They also can report outages on their phones and Internet-ready mobile devices by visiting www.sceg.com/mobile and clicking on “Storm Center.” In addition, they can go on their computers and visit www.sceg.com/storm to learn about how to report outages and find other information.
SCE&G urged its customers to register for the company's texting option. They can go to www.sceg.com, log into their accounts and look for “Activate Text Options” under the “Account Options” feature. After signing up, they can text the word “OUT” to 467234 (gosceg) to report an outage.
SCE&G's Twitter account is @scegnews, and the company also has a Facebook page.
“We've been monitoring the weather, and we've been sending a lot of information back and forth to the folks that will be involved in our storm response,” Boomhower said. “We're going over roles and responsibilities, and we're also making sure that we have the resources in place to respond as quickly as we can if we encounter any significant challenges to our system.”
Aiken Electric Cooperative warned its customers about the possibility of power outages and road blockages caused by falling trees on its Facebook page on Monday. The company also posted its outage reporting number, 1-877-264-5368, and asked its customers not to report outages on its Facebook page.
Storm safety tips can be found on Aiken Electric Cooperative's website, www.aikenco-op.org, by clicking the “Storm Safety” link. They include making sure the gas tanks of cars are filled and having a battery-powered radio on hand. The company's website also has a link to a real-time outage map.
“Our crews are prepared to respond quickly and safely, and we have other cooperatives and service crews on standby ready to assist us,” said Muriel Carter, marketing specialist for Aiken Electric Cooperative. “We'll be posting information about any outages on our Facebook page – where they are and how quickly we expect to have the power back up.”
Dede Biles is a general assignment reporter for the Aiken Standard and has been with the newspaper since January 2013. She is a native of Concord, N.C.