Threat of black ice looms in SC; some local schools remain closed

jmcfadden@heraldonline.com, jzou@heraldonline.comJanuary 29, 2014 

Bitterly cold air and patches of ice are expected to impact the Rock Hill area Thursday morning, though forecasters predict warmer temperatures will melt most of the ice remaining on York, Chester and Lancaster county roads.

The National Weather Service expects an arctic air mass to continue to hover over the region, jeopardizing health and property and possibly contributing to more black ice on roads.

Police and emergency officials on Wednesday responded to crashes and accidents on several icy streets in Rock Hill – some that had been treated with salt brine Tuesday by state and city transportation officials.

After overnight lows in the teens, temperatures are expected to climb into the 30s Thursday afternoon, with gusty winds.

The warmer temperatures are expected to begin melting icy roads, said Doug Outlaw, National Weather Service meteorologist.

“We’re going to have plenty of sunshine again,” he said.

Jeff Linton, another NWS meteorologist, said the main concern for some motorists in Lancaster County was standing ground water that can turn into black ice.

The ice caught forecasters off guard after they released several weather statements Monday and Tuesday that predicted several inches of snow, but contained no mentions of ice.

Slippery surprise

Area snow accumulation was less than predicted, Outlaw said, adding that “we expected the snow, but the extent of the slipperiness was a bit of a surprise.”

Less than an inch of snow fell in Rock Hill area and Chester County, with Lancaster County receiving between 1 and 2 inches of snow, Linton said.

Meteorologists were only able to predict precipitation amounts, but were unable to account for what might happen once moisture hit the ground, said Bryan McAvoy, a NWS meteorologist.

In a lot of weather events, McAvoy said, the impact of a storm depends on what the snow and ice does on the ground. “We forecast what’s going to fall.”

Weather officials are unsure why the ice developed. Temperatures reached into the 60s Monday before they "bottomed out" on Tuesday, dropping into the 20s and 30s.

“It was just a ... set of atmospheric conditions that sets up for a lot of ice, melting and re-freezing,” McAvoy said.

Rapid freezing resulted in slippery roads and several traffic accidents, prompting Rock Hill Police to briefly shut down Constitution Boulevard after receiving up to 40 calls from motorists whose cars slipped across the road.

The S.C. Highway Patrol reported more than 40 crashes in both York and Lancaster counties, but no fatalities were reported.

School closings

Schools in all three counties were closed on Wednesday and most are closed Thursday. Clover and Fort Mill schools will open Thursday on a delayed schedule.

School officials have not announced plans for makeup days for Wednesday.

Some school officials noted they may hold off on scheduling makeup days in case Gov. Nikki Haley excuses the districts that were affected statewide.

John Welborn, an S.C. Department of Transportation inspector in Rock Hill, said crews focused their attention Wednesday night on remaining icy spots using a combination of brine and sand.

About 50 personnel were assigned to handle 12-hour shifts starting at 7 a.m. Wednesday. Welborn said that he expects that number to decrease for Thursday’s maintenance needs.

Because of limited equipment and supplies, not all local roads were treated on Wednesday, Welborn said. “We hit the roads that have the highest amounts of traffic and make sure those have been done first,” he said.

Results from the brine applications may vary based on the age and type of asphalt used in the road, he said.

Parts of Celanese Road were slick on Wednesday despite being treated the day before the storm hit. Other intersections near Piedmont Medical Center also were covered in patches of ice on Wednesday morning.

- Charlotte Observer contributed

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