Utility companies prepare for severe winter weather across Charleston area

By Ashley Barker
abarker@scbiznews.com
Published Jan. 27, 2014

The potential for ice, sleet and snow in the Lowcountry over the next two days has electric companies preparing for the possibility of power outages.

A winter storm watch has been issued starting Tuesday and through Wednesday by the National Weather Service. All of southeast South Carolina, including the Charleston metro area, is included in the watch. Snow accumulation of up to 1 or 2 inches, along with around 1/4 to 1/2 inch of ice, is expected, according to the NWS. Wind chill readings could be in the lower and middle teens late Tuesday night and early Wednesday, the NWS said.

An ice storm warning has been issued for noon on Tuesday until 5 p.m. on Wednesday for Charleston and portions of southeast South Carolina.

“Snow and sleet accumulation will create dangerous or impossible driving conditions for everyone including first responders,” NWS said in a winter weather message. “Widespread power outages could produce life-threatening situations.”

Berkeley Electric Cooperative is “making advance preparations for the possibility of power outages associated with the winter storm,” according to a news release.

The cooperative, which provides electricity to more than 85,000 members in Berkeley, Charleston and Dorchester counties, said everyone should stay away from downed power lines and electrical equipment. If the power goes out, the cooperative said to turn off all large power users and wait 15 minutes after the power is restored to turn them back on.

SCE&G said ice can cause tree limbs to break, taking power lines and meter boxes down with them. The company, which has approximately 675,000 customers across the state, said to never use cooking stoves, ovens or outdoor grills as a source for heat.

“If you use a fireplace for heat, be sure to extinguish any flames before going to bed,” SCE&G said in a statement. “Supplemental heaters and generators designed for home use should be used with extreme caution, paying close attention to the manufacturer’s instructions.”

Santee Cooper, which provides power for more than two million customers across the state, said it’s monitoring the situation and making preparations for potential “extreme winter weather.”

Charleston County Emergency Management has placed essential personnel on standby in case the Emergency Operations Center needs to be activated, according to spokesman Shawn Smetana.

“We are constantly aware of any weather-related threats to the area. We will work with citizens and surrounding agencies to coordinate a response if the weather calls for it,” Smetana said in a statement. “We believe preparedness is the most pro-active method for citizens to be ready for any threat to the area.”

The NWS said travel should be avoided on Tuesday and Wednesday if possible. It reminded folks to charge cell phones and to purchase non-perishable food, flashlights, batteries, a battery operated radio, necessary medications and pet food before the storm begins.

The North Charleston Fire Department added that residents should buy or make ice and set aside extra water. The department suggested keeping plastic containers filled with water in the freezer to keep food cool during a power outage. Dairy products, seafood and food that has thawed completely should not be refrozen. If the food was above 40 degrees for more than two hours or if it has questionable texture or smell, the food should be thrown away, the department said.

The department also advised residents to fill vehicle gas tanks to at least half full before the storm.

Short-term power outages usually occur during peak energy usage times, between 4 and 7 p.m. on weekdays, the department said. Those outages typically last about an hour.

The South Carolina Highway Patrol is urging drivers to slow down for snowy, icy and wet conditions on the roads.

“A vehicle’s control can be better maintained at a lower speed. Avoid abrupt steering maneuvers, which could make you lose control of the vehicle,” the patrol said in a statement. “While driving in adverse conditions, look farther ahead in traffic than you normally do. Actions of other vehicles will alert you to potential problems more quickly.”

The patrol said drivers should avoid using cruise control and use brakes carefully.

Trident Health began making preparations for the possible arrival of inclement weather on Monday morning, according to a news release.

The hospital system, which runs Trident Medical Center, Summerville Medical Center and Moncks Corner Medical Center, is equipped and ready to operate without normal utility service and without means of outside assistance.  It gathered additional food, water and medical supplies in advance of the storm. A plan is also in place for extra staffing if needed.

Reach Ashley Barker at 843-849-3144 or @AshleyNBarker.

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