Originally created 01/25/03

Snow sets stage for coldest weather in more than a decade



As people across South Carolina were digging out from the unexpectedly large amount of snow dumped on the state, a blast of arctic air brought a bitter chill.

Power companies reported peak usage records Friday as residents cranked up the heat to stay warm.

"Normally we set records in the summer," said South Carolina Electric & Gas Co. spokesman Robin Montgomery. "It's unusual for our company to set a record in the winter."

SCE&G customers used 4,474 megawatts of electricity over a one-hour period at 8 a.m., Montgomery said. The previous system peak record of 4,404 megawatts was set on July 30, 2002.

It also was a record-setting day for the Santee Cooper electric and water utility. Officials there said customers used 5,370 megawatts between 6 a.m. and 7 a.m. Friday. That shattered the previous record of 4,805 megawatts set on Jan. 18.

SCE&G customers in the East Cooper area of Charleston experienced a short power outage after high demand caused some equipment failure, Montgomery said.

That wasn't the only problem for residents across the state. The cold temperatures caused pipes in numerous homes to freeze or burst.

Chris Corley, owner of the plumbing company Corley Professional Services in Greenville, said his employees answered some 75 to 100 calls Friday morning alone. He had more people on staff for the weekend to deal with the expected increase in service calls.

Ken Hershberger, service manager for Budget Plumbing Inc., encouraged homeowners to keep foundation vents closed on their homes to protect pipes from the cold air. Plumbers also suggest keeping homes warmer than usual, opening cabinet doors under sinks to allow warm air to circulate and letting some water run in sinks to protect pipes.

The National Weather Service reported record low temperatures in Florence and North Myrtle Beach Friday morning. But temperatures increased slightly across the state, with the mercury rising to the 30s in the Upstate and the Rock Hill region. Sunny skies brought high temperatures of about 35 degrees in the Midlands, but a colder night was expected with temperatures dropping to the teens. It was sunny and cold along the coast with highs in the upper 30s.

Gov. Mark Sanford delayed the opening of state offices Friday in 27 of the state's 46 counties.

Schools were closed in at least a dozen counties, while many other schools across the state opened one or two hours later than usual.

With the low forecast near 8 degrees Friday morning in Greenville, Maj. Stanley Melton opened the doors to the Waldo Leslie Salvation Army Service Center's gymnasium to make sure anyone without a home has a warm place to stay.

Melton said the shelter's 140 beds would fill up fast, but said there was room and enough food for as many as 600 people, even if they have to sleep on mats.

"We are in emergency mode,' Melton said. "No one will be turned away."

In Columbia, the tents of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus were cozy, despite the white flakes.

"The tent sides are all down and the doors are closed and two or three heaters are going in the tents," said Debbie Fahrenbruck, the show's animal behavioral veterinary technician.

"The animals look at the change of the weather like kids," she said. "They enjoy it a lot more than adults - from the elephants down to the pygmy goats."

Although forecasters had been calling for a dusting of snow across much of the state for days, the snow ended up being more intense than expected Thursday. Radio station WAGI in Gaffney reported 10 inches, while the National Weather Service said 9 inches fell in Clover.

The snow started just before rush hour Thursday in Columbia, causing big problems.

About 893 collisions, about five times the amount in a typical day, were reported Thursday on South Carolina roadways, officials said. There were no serious injuries, Public Safety Department spokesman Sid Gaulden said.

Authorities worried about an increase in fires as people look for any way to heat their homes, including using the kitchen stove. At least eight of the state's 12 fire deaths so far in January took place during last week's cold snap.

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On the Net: For information on state office closings, log on to www.state.sc.us/ohr/main.htm