Originally created 12/15/04

Cold weather could be preview of chilly winter



COLUMBIA, S.C. - Temperatures dipping into the 20s across most of South Carolina this week are likely just a preview of a winter that should be colder and wetter than normal, forecasters say.

Whether that means more snow and ice than normal can't be answered right now.

But it does mean parts of South Carolina will have a better chance of enjoying winter's pleasures, like sledding down a hill of fresh powder, or winter's curses, like ice storms and widespread power outages.

Water temperatures in the Pacific Ocean are to blame. Meteorologists call the phenomenon El Nino, a warming of the waters thousands of miles away from the United States.

In a typical El Nino winter, parts of South Carolina can see up to 20 percent more precipitation from January to March than an average winter, according to the National Weather Service.

Temperatures this winter should be about three degrees colder than normal, said Tom Kines, a senior meteorologist with AccuWeather.

But those averages are over months, while storms develop in days. If the precipitation falls during a mild stretch, it just rains. But let a storm develop during a week like this when cold air is in place, and the situation can get a lot messier.

"I'm not necessarily saying it will snow more, but it certainly could," Kines said.

The predictions of a colder and wetter winter don't often change the plans of businesses dependent on the weather.

Duke Power, which provides electricity for more than 2 million customers in North and South Carolina, depends more on historical trends than forecasts when preparing for power demand or buying supplies for possible winter outages, spokesman Tim Pettit said.

"It's really hard to plan too far in advance," Pettit said. "Snow and ice storms in this part of the country are too hard to predict."

Instead, the utility's meteorologists and others kick into high gear once a storm starts to form, Pettit said.

While the coldest weather is expected Wednesday and Thursday morning, the chilly temperatures will continue for at least the next week and likely through Christmas.

But don't get too excited about the prospects of that rarest of South Carolina events - a white Christmas.

The 15-day forecast from AccuWeather keeps most of the state dry Dec. 24 and 25.