Not one snowflake fell from the sky Thursday, but the greater Charleston area remained largely immobilized by a winter storm that struck a day earlier, dumped a near record snowfall and left local streets and highways covered with a thick sheet of ice.
Temperatures in the Lowcountry climbed above freezing Thursday afternoon but dove back down after dusk, signaling that Charleston would not return to business as usual Friday.
Much of the snow and ice that melted Thursday was forecast to freeze again thanks to a projected overnight low temperature of 16, setting off another round of closures for schools, government offices and businesses across the tri-county area.
Meteorologist James Carpenter with the National Weather Service’s Charleston office said some places could see ground snow and ice linger for days before warmer temperatures finally melt it all.
Carpenter said Thursday’s clear skies and a warming period with several hours of temperatures above freezing wouldn’t be enough.
“We’re cautioning people to assume that there will be some ice on the road. … There could be a significant amount of melting by tomorrow. There could be black ice issues until Monday,” he said.
Officials in Charleston and North Charleston declared states of emergency and continued to encourage residents to stay off the roads, which remained an icy, slushy — and sometimes treacherous — mess Thursday afternoon.
"You can't tell what lane you are in," S.C. Highway Patrol Sgt. Bob Beres said of conditions on Interstate 26. "I saw (vehicles) straddling each other, making up their own lane."
Police and firefighters responded to numerous spin outs and minor wrecks, but local authorities did not report any serious injuries or fatalities caused by Wednesday’s storm. On Interstate 95 in Clarendon County, one person was killed Thursday after a truck hit ice and spun out of control, according to the Highway Patrol.
For people like 8-year-old Reagyn Carroll, the snow that tallied as the third-highest snowfall on record here was a welcome, unusual sight.
“I wish it would stay longer,” she said from her yard in Charleston’s Wagener Terrace neighborhood where she built a family of snowmen.
State of emergency
In Charleston, Mayor John Tecklenburg said the biggest concern remained minimizing traffic on streets which, while passable, remain icy and slick.
“We worked hard today to get the primary thoroughfares as clear as possible, but the city, county and even the state have limited resources for snow handling,” he said.
Tecklenburg said he heard few reports of serious property damage and said the greatest problem might be for small businesses shuttered by the storm that may have to remain closed for several more days.
“That’s a loss of revenue for folks, some of whom are only paid when they’re there. I think that’s the biggest impact.”
Tecklenburg said the city’s emergency declaration will help business owners who might be insured for such weather-related losses.
North Charleston Mayor Keith Summey declared a state of emergency early Thursday afternoon to encourage city residents and others to stay off the roads unless absolutely necessary.
Summey said he hoped to have a better handle Friday of when the city’s roads would be safe.
“If we were somewhere up north that had this all the time, we would have snow plows and all this kind of stuff, but this is an unusual happening for us,” he said.
Charleston Emergency Management Director Mark Wilbert said CARTA will commence normal operations at noon Friday.
At the airport, where the Weather Service recorded 5.3 inches of snow Wednesday, flights with major airlines have been cancelled into Friday. Passengers are encouraged to call their airline in the morning to check their flight status.
Veterans Affairs announced its outpatient clinics will remain closed Friday, but patients may use their VA identification cards to get prescriptions refilled for a seven-day supply at retail pharmacies.
Joint Base Charleston said it would open at 10 a.m., Friday for limited operations only.
Fun in the snow
Another snow day meant more fun to be had for people who ventured out under sunny skies to document the unfamiliar frozen landscape and play in the snow. Schools remained closed across the tri-county area, and many employers told workers to stay home. Families — particularly those with children and dogs — were seen patrolling neighborhood streets toting makeshift sleds.
By mid-morning, temperatures had inched above freezing, drawing people out to the Charleston Battery. “This will all be gone by Monday,” one man remarked to his friends after making a snowball.
Violet Frunza wandered along East Battery with her brother, Allen Frunza, and admired the icicles hanging from palmetto trees. The siblings and Violet Frunza’s fiancé drove in from Knoxville a day earlier to see the aftermath of the rare snowstorm. They planned to visit Folly Beach later in the day.
“It was kind of a last-minute thing,” said Allen Frunza, who insisted he wasn’t cold while dressed in shorts and a zip-up sweatshirt.
At Charleston’s snow-covered Hampton Park, Russell Powell and a group of neighborhood friends ducked and dodged as their children slung snowballs indiscriminately toward adults.
"Happy snow day from Charleston," Powell said laughing. "The kids — they're basically annihilating us with snowballs.”
Dozens of Mount Pleasant children and their parents flocked to one of the town’s few hilly spots, Royall Avenue at McCants Drive. Kids were sledding down the icy incline on wave boards and plastic laundry baskets, but Jamison Leigh’s children had something rare — a Flexible Flyer sled with a wood-slat top and metal runners.
“We’ve been here 13 years and I think it’s the third time we’ve used it,” he said. “It’s so fun.”
Without ice scrapers to clean their cars, some residents resorted to other household items: spatulas, dust pans, brooms.
Krysten Hohl tried unsuccessfully to scrape ice from the windows of her Mini Cooper with a credit card, which broke. She then tried a calendar until someone loaned her a scraper.
"That works much better!" she said, returning it to a man inside a pickup truck parked at Harris Teeter on East Bay Street.
Despite the difficulties for motorists, Tecklenburg noted most city residents had power, very few suffered injuries, and the storm gave most people some extra time off with their families.
“Things have really gone well, even though it’s hard to get around because it’s so icy,” he said, adding praise for warming shelters that had opened to serve the homeless.
Aldersgate United Methodist Church was among that handful of safe havens. Inside the North Charleston church, the Rev. Erik Grayson darted around solving problems Thursday as church member Judith Pfaehler prepared lunch for more than 30 people.
In an ordinary winter, when the temperature dips below 35 degrees, Aldersgate only serves as a nighttime shelter. But as the snow rolled in on Wednesday, followed by more subfreezing temperatures, the church decided to keep the shelter running all day, for as many days as necessary.
That means they're short on volunteers to check in guests, serve meals, and supervise overnight. Another problem: The pipes keep freezing. And another: The propane water heater for the showers broke Thursday and needs replacing.
"It'll come. God provides," Grayson said.
Pfaehler said help kept coming, too. North Charleston police officers gave rides to the church and even tried their hand at a plumbing repair Thursday. And neighbors brought pots of soup to share.
Robert Behre, Paul Bowers, Greg Yee, Michael Majchrowicz, Mary Katherine Wildeman and David Slade contributed to this story.