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What to do with unexpected day off from school, published 1/10/2010

Freezing rain and sleet are glazing the Lowcountry, leading officials to cancel classes in Charleston, Berkeley and Dorchester counties and close multiple bridges, including the Don Holt, Wando and Ravenel.

Traffic info from Highway Patrol

SC Highway Patrol Realtime Traffic Information

According to authorities, the Ravenel Bridge started slowly opening a few lanes at a time in both directions at about 12:15 p.m.

"The Ravenel Bridge is open to vehicle traffic but motorists are cautioned to keep their speeds slow due to possibility of patches of ice," says a press release from the Mount Pleasant Police Department. "Interstate 526 westbound is still closed due to severe ice on the Don Holt Bridge. Delays are expected. Officers are in the area offering assistance and diverting traffic as necessary."

Starting at about 1 p.m., Interstate 526 and the two bridges, the Don Holt and the Wando, were reopening.

The Mount Pleasant police department had closed the Don Holt and Wando bridges in both directions about 9 a.m.

In an earlier press release, the Mount Pleasant Police Department said:

"The Ravenel Bridge and Wando Bridge on 526 are closed temporarily due to icy conditions. This closure is expected to last only long enough for SCDOT maintenance vehicles to apply sand to the bridges. Delays are expected and drivers should use extreme caution operating in these conditions. Officers are in the area offering assistance and diverting traffic as necessary."

Authorities report that parts of the James Island Connector are iced over, causing cars to slide down sideways. The Berlin G. Myers overpass and the Limehouse Bridge were closed for much of the morning but both were reopened by 11 a.m.

S.C. Department of Transportation crews have been applying a brine solution to Lowcountry bridges and roadways to keep them from freezing since early Monday, according to James Law, spokesman for the district that includes Charleston County.

"We are putting brine solution on them as hard as we can go," Law said. "We've been working around the clock on this deal."

Law said it's up to law enforcement to close the bridges if they don't consider them passable. He said crews are monitoring the bridges and roads and are re-treated as soon as they refreeze.

"I don't know of anything else we could do that we're not doing," Law said.

According to the city of Charleston, the Westmoreland Bridge on I-526 and the Stono Bridge remain open.

The S.C. Highway Patrol is urging motorists to stay off the roads if possible.

Motorists reported downed tree limbs on Farmington Road in Summerville near Faith Assembly of God Church this afternoon.

For those who had to work today despite the nasty weather, the drive home should not be as perilous as the morning commute.

"We expect temperatures will remain above freezing through the evening commute," said Jon Jelsema, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service's Charleston office.

Motorists reported downed tree limbs on Farmington Road in Summerville near Faith Assembly of God Church.

Later tonight, temperatures may drop below freezing and roads may get icy, especially in areas further from the coast, such as Summerville or Moncks Corner, Jelsema said.

The steady rain is expected to end early this evening, but there will be patches of drizzle, he said.

Conditions for Tuesday morning will depend on how cold it gets tonight, Jelsema said.

"It's pretty difficult to forecast, when you are talking about one degree of temperature," Jelsema said. "At 32 degrees the rain freezes on the roads. At 33 degrees, it doesn't."

More than 1,100 Berkeley Electric customers were without power as of 11:30 a.m. SCE&G reported about 1,400 customers out across the state, with about 145 outages in the Charleston County area.

The runways at Charleston International Airport remained open, though the passenger terminal itself was reportedly quiet after a third of outgoing flights were cancelled, said Charleston County Aviation Authority spokeswoman Becky Beaman.

Most of the airport's earliest flights -- including one to Charlotte -- took off without problems. But as the weather pummeled major hubs, airlines cancelled a growing number of flights.

A winter storm warning is in effect until 11 p.m. Monday for parts of Berkeley, Dorchester and Colleton counties. A winter weather advisory in Charleston County has been upgraded to a winter weather warning until 5 p.m.

The skies remained clear until sleet and freezing rain started coming down as early as 6 a.m. in Moncks Corner, Mount Pleasant and all points in between.

The closing of the Don Holt and Ravenel bridges stranded many Mount Pleasant residents, frustrating some of them.

“If you allow Mother Nature to run your highway system you’re in trouble,” said Michael Hart, who moved here from the Northeast 12 years ago. “You should’ve put salt down on the bridges ahead of time. You knew this was coming. Welcome to a city not prepared.”

Van Fischer was prevented from making it to an appointment on Daniel Island. Instead he decided to go to the grocery store.

“It allows me to get some errands done.”

Klaus Dojahn, has been visiting his daughter in Park West since Dec. 22. He’s from San Jose, Ca. and is scheduled to fly out of town Tuesday.

“Hopefully we can get out tomorrow,” he said.

Driver Caitlin McKee's mindless eight-minute commute from downtown Charleston to her job at a Mount Pleasant software company stretched to two hours this morning.

Crossing the Ravenel bridge, she saw two cars gently collide, idle drivers typing on laptops and two ladies hop the median to get into another vehicle that was driving back toward downtown Charleston. Once atop the bridge, she braked to navigate her car down the icy path downward.

"I never hit the gas the entire way," she said. "It was scary."

While as much as two inches of snow has fallen in St. Stephen, most areas are seeing an accumulation of ice on parked cars, power lines and trees.

At 12:40 p.m., The Citadel announced it would close for the day.

"With the potential for hazardous driving conditions throughout the day today, The Citadel will close effectively immediately, allowing employees to go home. In addition, evening Citadel Graduate College classes are canceled," the school announced in a press release.

Also the City of Goose Creek announced that its offices will close at 1:00 p.m. today and reopen Tuesday, January 11, 2011. The closure includes City Hall, the Municipal Court, the Casey Community Center and the Goose Creek Community Center. The Department of Public Works will continue to perform sanitation services in the area until completion, according to city officials.

The Charleston County School District announced this morning that school is canceled for students and school-based staff. Administrators and central office staff are on a 3 hour delay. All after-school and evening activities- including the CCSD board meeting - have also been canceled.

Berkeley County schools also canceled classes. Dorchester County District 2 canceled its teacher work day and extended day care.

Charleston Southern University classes are canceled today.

College of Charleston classes are canceled today.

Charleston city offices have closed for the day. Employees who were asked to arrive by 11 a.m. are now being told to stay home.

MUSC has canceled classes today. University essential faculty and staff are asked to report for duty as outlined in departmental emergency plans, according to a posting on the school's website.

Also, all Trident Technical College campuses are closed today.

Other closings:

• Due to inclement weather in the Lowcountry, East Cooper Medical Center has canceled: The Infant CPR class and Special Delivery Class that were supposed to be held this evening at the hospital. Participants can call 843-884-7031 to reschedule their future spot.• The Post and Courier office at 6296 Rivers Ave. in North Charleston is closed. They will resume normal business operations Tuesday. The Post and Courier main office at 139 Columbus St. remains open. Those wishing to place a classified advertisemnet can do so by calling 722-6500.• All First Federal financial centers in the tri-county area, including those in Wal-Mart Supercenter locations, are closed today.• All Charleston County Public library locations will close at 11 a.m. today. Libraries will reopen Tuesday, January 11 with regular service hours.• Charleston County Government offices will close for non-essential personnel at 11 a.m. today. Charleston County is currently operating under Operating Condition 4 with a limited activation of the County's Emergency Operations Center in order to monitor the weather situation. Based on current information, County offices are expected to run on a regular schedule on Tuesday, January 11.• Due to the Charleston County Judicial Center closing, all residents who are supposed to report for Charleston County Grand Jury today at 2 p.m. are to report tomorrow, January 11 at 2 p.m.• Boone Hall Plantation• Charleston County Parks and Recreation Commission parks and facilities• Due to hazardous road conditions, Charleston Water System will be closed for the day. All non-essential staff should not report to work at 11 a.m. as previously reported.• Due to the icing of bridges and decreasing road conditions, city of North Charleston offices will close at 10 a.m. for the remainder of the day. This closure effects non-essential personnel only.• South Carolina Federal Credit Union branches will open at noon. Its Columbia-area branches are closed today.• The Trident Literacy Association offices in North Charleston are closed today.• Charleston Metro Chamber of Commerce is closed today.• All Berkeley County offices, including the courthouse are closed today, and tonight's council committee meetings are canceled.• Creative Spark Center for the Arts classes and private lessons canceled Monday.

The forecast calls for snow, freezing rain and sleet before 10 a.m., followed by rain possibly mixed with sleet between 10 a.m. and 1 p.m., according to the National Weather Service in Charleston. The high today will be about 36 degrees with northeast winds between 13 and 16 mph.

Post and Courier reporters Warren Wise and Katy Stech contributed to this report.