A winter storm is crippling Aiken County and surrounding areas today with a thick sheet of ice.

Sleet has been falling in Aiken County since early this morning and many area roads are icing over.

“We think the average accumulation across the county will be nine-tenths of an inch,” said Mike Proud, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Columbia, on Tuesday afternoon.

Various media outlets used adjectives such as mind-boggling and devastating to describe the storm's potential impact.

Gov. Nikki Haley declared a state of emergency in South Carolina on Tuesday.

“It (the precipitation) will remain freezing rain pretty much through the entire day, and it will start tapering off Wednesday evening,” Proud said. “There will be some light freezing rain most of the night on Wednesday and into Thursday morning, and then the whole low pressure system that will be moving along the coast will finally pull out of the area. Late Thursday morning, it (the precipitation) should go back to a little bit of rain, and then it should end around noon.”

Winds today could cause problems.

“We are looking at speeds of 10 to 15 mph, with gusts of up to 20,” Proud said. “When the ice does start to build up on the power lines and the tree branches, the wind is going to be of no help. Because of the wind, we may see more tree branches and power lines coming down.”

The high today will be 33 degrees, and the low overnight will be 30 degrees. Thursday's high will be 44.

Possible impact

Power company crews already are facing major challenges.

“When you see a half-inch of ice or more, there are going to be outages,” said Eric Boomhower, public affairs manager for SCE&G. “Trees and their branches can't bear the weight, and they'll either be leaning into or falling onto power lines.”

The ice also can damage lines even when there are no trees around.

“A half-inch adds anywhere from 300 to 500 pounds of extra weight to the lines,” Boomhower said.

Because of the likelihood that the storm will affect a large area in South Carolina, SCE&G won't be able to use all its resources to deal with Aiken County's difficulties. Extended periods of time without power are possible.

“Columbia, Aiken and Charleston are our biggest area as far as electric power service goes, and we're anticipating frozen precipitation problems for much of our territory; that's another challenge we'll face,” Boomhower said.

As of Tuesday morning, SCE&G had 1,200 employees and 300 workers from other utility companies ready to go to work to restore power.

If lines do go down, “you absolutely want to avoid them,” Boomhower said. “You can't tell if a power line is energized by looking at it. You have to assume power is flowing into that line, and you have to steer clear of the line and anything that might be touching it.”

Dede Biles is a general assignment reporter for the Aiken Standard and has been with the newspaper since January 2013. A native of Concord, N.C., she graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Winter driving tips

• Avoid unnecessary travel

• Accelerate, decelerate and turn slowly

• Don't stop if you can avoid it

• Don't use cruise control

• Stay on major routes

• Use extra caution on bridges and overpasses, which freeze first

• Fill up on windshield washer fluid

Source: AAA Carolinas

Skidding on icy roads

If your vehicle starts to skid, first take your foot off the accelerator.

If the rear of the vehicle is sliding left, steer left into the skid.

If the rear of the vehicle is sliding right, steer to the right.

If your vehicle has standard brakes, pump them gently. If it has anti-lock brakes, apply steady pressure. It's normal to feel the brakes “pulse.”