People of South Carolina's coastal regions on Wednesday skied on the Charleston Battery, used yoga mats and frying pans to go sledding on mounds in Mount Pleasant, and emerged from their homes in Summerville to build snowmen during one of the deepest snowfalls the area has ever seen.

Most points in the Lowcountry were touched by the wintry precipitation that, by late in the day, had come within an inch of a 6-inch record set in 1989 at the Charleston International Airport.

More than three hours of freezing rain eventually gave way early Wednesday afternoon to large snowflakes that blanketed roads, Charleston's iconic Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge and the palmetto trees that give the state its nickname.

A few hundred people throughout the afternoon grabbed whatever they could find — cardboard boxes, tire covers, boogie boards, skateboards without wheels — and went sledding down a mound at a recreational complex on Mount Pleasant's Park West Boulevard.

Local teenager Kyle Hunter said he had seen snow before, but mainly elsewhere.

"It's different when you see it here," he said as he and a friend prepared to slide down the mound on skateboards. "It's more fun, and everybody is happy around town. It's just a great time."

Fun seemed to be the theme of the day for many. Though some roads had been shut down and cars slid off others, authorities said no fatalities had been reported by late Wednesday morning, when most of the incidents occurred, as a result of the storm. Power outages were sporadic. At one point, South Carolina Electric & Gas tallied 7,500 customers who had lost electricity, mostly in Charleston County.

At the airport, where the National Weather Service notes official records, 5 inches of the white stuff had fallen through 5 p.m., and it was still coming down, forecasters said. The total there was the third-highest on record.

The airport had shut down runways earlier in the day because of ice. Schools and colleged closed through Thursday, with the Charleston County School District shuttering until Tuesday. 

High temperatures are expected Thursday in the upper 30s, and the snow will gradually melt. But a winter weather advisory remains in effect until 11 a.m. The Weather Service said low temperatures overnight will cause the snow and ice to refreeze on roads and bridges, making for extremely dangerous travel conditions.

With cold air lingering overnight, the ice will hang around for a few days on road surfaces, forecasters said.

"But compared to what we've seen the past several days," Weather Service meteorologist Carl Barnes said, "it's not going to be that cold."

On Sunday, the Charleston area could see 60 degrees.

From ice to snow

The storm began with freezing rain, giving the Lowcountry its second glazing of ice in a week.

But as temperatures topped out around 30 degrees, then fell into the upper- and mid-20s, snow mixed in. Some of the earliest flakes flew in Summerville, where observers reported a half-foot of snow later in the day.

The flakes started to accumulate just before noon in areas inland of Charleston. In a little more than an hour, 2 inches had caked on the ground in spots.

Road crews focused their efforts on clearing interstates 26 and 95.

Some authorities said many motorists had not heeded warnings to stay off the streets and highways, making their job more difficult.

In West Ashley, drivers on Glenn McConnell Parkway were frustrated to find it closed at the overpass near Bees Ferry Road during the morning hours.

"I don't know how I'm supposed to get to my house," said Sarah Smith, who was on her way to her Hickory Hills home from a run to Harris Teeter. "And I'm not sure where to go otherwise."

Dozens of minor crashes were reported on thoroughfares in the coastal region and in portions of the Midlands, state officials said. More than 180 state law enforcement officers dispersed through the area to help folks cope with the weather.

“We are highly visible along our corridors,” S.C. Department of Public Safety Director Leroy Smith said. "We are seeing a lot of collisions and disabled vehicles.”

'Keep the people happy'

On the Charleston peninsula, anyone besides tourists were scarce. King Street's parking spaces were still partially full, and some brave visitors combed the street for open shops.

Sally Vaquero of Greenville was among them. She and her husband were hoping to visit galleries and shops in Charleston. They had checked the weather and knew it would be less than perfect, but reservations had already been made. She said they would look for an open pub and hunker down there, if they could.

Another visitor came from farther away. Dan Wise said he and his wife were from the United Kingdom but live in Mexico City. He wandered Broad Street mid-morning with his camera, shooting photos of the area, which for once was mostly devoid of other pedestrians.

Wise said they were hoping to see some warmer air in Charleston. But he seemed unbothered.

"I mean, honestly, we're quite used to this type of weather," he said.

In much of the area, few stores were open. One exception was on James Island: Tilted Glass Wine & Spirits.

Ann Brooke Parker said she volunteered to work there Wednesday. Business was as brisk as the weather. People were stocking up on Bailey's and Fireball Cinnamon Whisky, she said.

"I have to keep the people happy," she said.

'Something different'

Fun reigned.

Randy Pelzer went cross-country skiing near the Battery in Charleston. The last time this happened, he said, was the record-setting storm at Christmastime in 1989.

"This happens once every 30 years or so," he said, adding that he was hoping to ski on the Ravenel Bridge.

Collin Brown, 10, flopped down in his neighbor's yard off Sweetgrass Basket Parkway in Mount Pleasant, where more than 4 inches of snow had been measured. He flapped his arms and legs.

"I'm just making snow angels and making a teeny snowman," he said. "It's so white."

He had never seen snow like this in his hometown.

"It's been quite a while since we've seen this amount of snow," his mother, Haley Brown, said. "It's beautiful. But we're about to go in and get some hot chocolate."

Nearby, Kaitlyn Ducey, 4, caught snowflakes on her tongue.

"She loves the snow," Paige Ducey, her mother, said. "Eating it is her favorite thing, clearly."

Across town, Mount Pleasant police officers joined the hundreds who converged on the recreation center mound with their surfboards and other makeshift sleds. Few had come with the real thing.

One patrolman slid too far and into the nearby street, as many others had done before him.

"Oh, no," he screamed. "A car!"

The car stopped. The policeman escaped unscathed as people cheered.

"This is community policing right here," another lawman said.

Daren Easterling of Mount Pleasant saw his son slide down the mound on a boogie board before wiping out. It was one of the few places in the Lowcountry that he knew had a hill, he said.

His son, a native South Carolinian, had not seen snow before.

"He loves it," Easterling said. "We were playing in the yard, but they wanted to do something different. This is one of the few areas where you see people using beach boards to go sled riding."

West Ashley residents Maud and Jonathan Bentley also were excited to bring their children, Beckham, 5, and Marley, 3, out to see snow for the first time.

But after sledding down a hill a couple of times, Marley had enough and was ready to go back inside.

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Bo Petersen, Brenda Rindge, Mary Katherine Wildeman, Chloe Johnson and Tony Bartelme contributed to this report. Reach Andrew Knapp at 843-937-5414. Follow him on Twitter @offlede.

Andrew Knapp is editor of the Quick Response Team, which covers crime, courts and breaking news. He previously worked as a reporter and copy editor at Florida Today, Newsday and Bangor (Maine) Daily News. He enjoys golf, weather and fatherhood.

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