Winter storm leaves slick roads, affects air travel

Scanning the arrival and departure monitors at the Charleston International Airport, Elizabeth Gordon couldn't get to Memphis through Atlanta on Tuesday January 11, 2011. She even tried to arrange travel through Charlotte, New York and Washington with no

Moisture left behind by Monday's winter storm may cause dangerous patches of invisible ice on Lowcountry roads today.

Air travel remains questionable. With airports in Charlotte and Atlanta grounding planes, Charleston aviation officials urge passengers to check with airlines before preparing to fly.

Charleston Aviation Authority spokeswoman Becky Beaman said between 12 and 15 departures to the two cities already have been canceled this morning and that other airports in the Northeast might shut down later today.

The National Weather Service issued a winter weather advisory for freezing rain and black ice in the coastal area near Charleston. The advisory expires at 11 a.m. today. Conditions this morning will depend on how cold it got overnight, said Jon Jelsema, a meteorologist with the Charleston office.

"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."

No bridge closings or major wrecks have been reported this morning.

The S.C. Highway Patrol reports that both the eastbound and westbound lanes of Interstate 26 near Harleyville exit is iced over, as are lanes near the 77 and 82 mile markers on Interstate 95. The S.C. Department of Transportation has been requested to treat the area.

Authorities encourage motorists not to drive if they don't have to. The freezing drizzle is possible through the late morning as temperatures will remain near or just below freezing through daybreak.

Schools will be closed today in several public school districts, including Dorchester 4, Colleton County, and Orangeburg districts 5 and 3.

Classes in the Charleston County schools are delayed for three hours. In Berkeley County and in Dorchester District 2, they're also delayed for three hours.

"Our 4-year-old morning kindgergarten classes will be canceled completely," said Pat Raynor, spokeswoman for Dorchester District 2.

Several colleges were advising students to monitor the news. Trident Technical College postponed all classes until 11 a.m. today. The Charleston County Public Library is delaying its opening until 10:30 a.m.

Charleston city employees should report for work two hours later than usual, except for public safety and environmental services employees. Governments in Dorchester and Charleston counties were opening their offices at 10:30 a.m. Berkeley County offices will open at 11 a.m.

Monday's storm dumped about 9 inches of snow in parts of the Upstate, with lesser amounts to the east and south. The coastal areas near Charleston got about half an inch of frozen rain.

Gov. Mark Sanford declared a state of emergency for all 46 counties. State officials warned drivers to stay off the roads as the morning's snow turned to freezing rain around midday and temperatures across much of the state stayed at or below freezing.

Bridges in the Lowcountry were eerily empty after police began shutting them down because of icy conditions.

Cars were skidding sideways on bridges and other thoroughfares, including the James Island connector and the Berlin G. Myers Parkway.

For several hours, residents east of the Cooper River were unable to get to Charleston without driving through Moncks Corner because the Ravenel Bridge was closed, as well as the Don Holt and Wando bridges on Interstate 526.

"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."

But S.C. Department of Transportation officials said they were as prepared as they could be.

They started pre-treating the major bridges about midnight Monday with 4,000 gallons of salt brine and calcium fluoride mix to keep the ice from sticking. They followed that with more than 125 tons of salt, according to Robert Clark, engineering administrator for the district that covers the Lowcountry.

James Law, district spokesman for SCDOT, said crews worked closely with local law enforcement agencies to monitor and treat the roads.

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

The Ravenel Bridge was reopened to traffic about 12:15 p.m. The Wando and Don Holt Bridges followed about 1 p.m.

Roads that were treated by SCDOT on Monday won't be impervious to icing over today, Law said. "The rain will wash it off," he said. "We have to keep reapplying it."

Like most Southern states, South Carolina does not keep a huge fleet of snow plows and salt trucks in service, Law said. "This is an unusual event," he said. "It's not like we're in Michigan where this happens all the time."

Troopers reported nearly 2,000 wrecks across South Carolina from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. More were expected as slush started freezing on interstates and road crews struggled to keep up.

Much of the South was crippled by the storm. The heaviest snow fell in parts of Tennessee that received as much as 13 inches. The governors of Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, North Carolina, and Tennessee also declared emergencies. Schools and colleges called off classes.

More than 2,000 flights were canceled around the South -- affecting passengers as far away as Scandinavia -- and Atlanta's airport was nearly deserted on what would normally be a busy Monday morning.

The runways at Charleston International Airport remained open Monday, though the passenger terminal itself was reportedly quiet after a third of outgoing flights were canceled, 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 canceled a growing number of flights.

Klaus Dojahn, who has been visiting his daughter in Mount Pleasant's Park West since Dec. 22, was scheduled to fly back today to San Jose, Calif.

"Hopefully we can get out tomorrow," he said.

Across the state, frigid overnight temperatures were expected to wreak havoc on power lines and crews were on standby to make repairs. The state of emergency allows the government to bring in more help for public safety workers and utility companies.

"Usually the biggest problem is the ice and snow on branches, bringing them into contact with power lines," said Eric Boomhower, spokesman for South Carolina Electric & Gas Co.

As of 9:30 p.m. Monday, SCE&G was reporting only a few hundred customers were without power in the tri-county area. Earlier in the day, however, there were thousands in the dark, most in the Dorchester County area. Lawmakers returning for the first day of the 2011 session announced a delayed start at 3:30 p.m. today for the House, while the Senate said it would start at noon, but recess until 5 p.m. to give those traveling enough time to get to Columbia safely.

Closings and delayed openings for Tuesday, Jan. 11:

Closings:

Colleton County School District: Closed

Dorchester District 4: Closed

Orangeburg District 3 & 5: Closed

Delayed openings:

Charleston County Schools: Three-hour delay

Dorchester District 2: Three-hour delay

4-year-old morning kindergarten classes cancelled

Berkeley County Schools: Three-hour delay

Bishop England High School: Delayed until 10:30 a.m.

Trident Technical College: Delayed until 11 a.m.

Charleston Southern University has cancelled all classes until 11 a.m.

CSU business offices will open at 11 a.m.

Charleston County Public Library: Delayed until 10:30 a.m.

Berkeley County offices open at 11 a.m.

South Carolina Federal Credit Union: Branches opening at 11 a.m.

Charleston Gastroenterology Specialists will open at 10 a.m.

Charleston Endoscopy Center will open at 6:30 a.m.

Colleton County government delays opening until 10 a.m.

State offices will delay opening by two hours.

Charleston County Clerk of Court’s Office Message for Jurors:

All jurors who were scheduled to report at 9 a.m. on Monday, Jan. 10 should report at 12 p.m. noon on Tuesday, Jan. 11.

All residents who were scheduled to report for Charleston County Grand Jury at 2 p.m. on Monday, Jan. 10 should report at 2 p.m. on Tuesday, Jan. 11.

Anyone scheduled for jury who has questions can call (843) 958-5084 or (843) 958-5005 to get up-to-date information and instructions.

Normal schedule

The Citadel campus and the College of Charleston will open on a normal schedule.

Charleston County Recycling Schedule: The curbside recycling route on Monday, Jan. 10 was not completed due to the weather, but it will be completed on Tuesday, Jan. 11. If Tuesday’s route is not finished by the end of the day, it will be completed on Wednesday. To clarify: residents whose recycling bins were missed today should leave them out for pickup tomorrow. Those with a Tuesday schedule should put them out tomorrow for pickup on Tuesday or Wednesday. Wednesday and Thursday pickups will be on schedule.

Katy Stech, Warren Wise and The Associated Press contributed to this report. Reach David W. MacDougall at 937-5655. Reach Andy Paras at 937-5589.