Today, we’ll soak up sun, but last year — ice bombs

Ice on the Ravenel Bridge closed the span for 43 hours last year, starting at 8 p.m. Jan. 28. When the bridge reopened, ice fell during the mid-morning commute.

Sunny skies with a high near 57 degrees is the forecast for Thursday, which could be described as perfect weather for driving the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge.

A year ago, it was a much different story because the bridge was closed due to a brutal ice storm.

But that was then, this is now. As the weather warms, the ice and frozen precipitation from that time seem like a distant memory. Still, there’s no forgetting the way it was.

When the Ravenel reopened after a 43-hour shutdown, morning commuters were hit with “ice bombs” falling from the superstructure. Pieces of frozen precipitation up to 10 feet long, 1 foot wide and three-quarters of an inch thick broke free from the bridge support cables and diamond-shaped towers and fell into traffic. The tallest part of the bridge is 380 feet above the road surface. Because of the height, some of the ice was falling with considerable velocity.

There were reports of smashed windshields and frantic calls to 911. Some motorists prayed for safety as they crossed the bridge while others cried into their cellphones for help. Officials scrambled to shut the bridge for another six hours until it was judged safe to drive across again. It was reopened for the heart of rush hour by 5 p.m.

The extreme winter weather created bridge conditions unlike any seen before in the span’s relatively brief history. Because of ice, the bridge closed at 8 p.m. Jan. 28 of last year and reopened at 3 p.m. on Jan. 30.

It seemed that the worst of the ordeal was over, but just as the area was getting back on its feet, another nasty winter storm bore down on the region on Feb. 10. During the second blast of miserable weather, the Ravenel Bridge was closed for 51 hours. Although the closure was longer, emails obtained by The Post and Courier under the state Freedom of Information Act indicated there was less confusion on the ground and fewer false reports and mixed messages relayed to the public. And there was no ice falling on cars when the bridge reopened.

Afterward, the state Department of Transportation reached out to bridge experts. As a result, the DOT applied for a $9 million grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency for a system that uses tiny bursts of electricity to keep ice from forming on the bridge cables and towers. There was no word late Wednesday on the status of the grant application.

But that was then, this is now. High temperatures will be well above freezing and there’s a gentle wind in the forecast.

The bridge is just fine for driving.

Reach Prentiss Findlay at 937-5711