Offices, schools and government departments around Beaufort County announced plans to shut down Wednesday as a blast of winter weather was expected to chill the Lowcountry.
Many offices closed early Tuesday afternoon to beat the start of freezing rain and snow expected later in the evening.
As much as two inches of snow was expected to fall Wednesday in Beaufort County, much more than the half inch predicted at the beginning of the week, National Weather Service Charleston meteorologist Julie Packett said. Areas farther inland could get as much as three inches, with ice forming up to a half-inch thick, she said.
Packett said freezing rain that was expected to start Tuesday night would become snow just before sunrise Wednesday and fall until about midday. Rain could follow once temperatures warm later in the day, she said.
The National Weather Service issued ice and storm warnings for Beaufort County at noon Tuesday, about the time Gov. Nikki Haley declared a state of emergency in South Carolina.
Beaufort County Emergency Management Commander Lt. Col. Neil Baxley urged residents to stay off the roads Wednesday and be prepared for power outages.
"If there's ice forming on the roads, you're not going to be able to move on it safely," he said. "Be prepared for highly hazardous driving conditions if you do try to drive."
Residents began hunkering down Tuesday.
The parking lot of the Kroger grocery store in greater Bluffton began filling at about noon. Shoppers could be seen carrying bags filled with snowed-in essentials, including bread, milk and bottled water.
Things picked up around 3 p.m. at the Piggly Wiggly in Beaufort, according to store manager Dee Scott.
"We're slammed," she said early Tuesday evening. "I guess everybody got off early and came to the store to get ready for tomorrow."
Scott said the store is well-stocked, though, and shouldn't have a problem keeping emergency items such as flashlights and batteries on shelves.
Movies were a hot item Tuesday at the Bi-Lo in Bluffton, manager Kathy Haney said.
"The Redbox had a long line earlier," she said. "It was quite extensive."
Firewood was also in high demand. Carolina Morning Firewood on S.C. 170 in Okatie had almost 150 customers Tuesday, one of the busiest days the company has had this year, owner Brandon Thiess said. In Bluffton, customers streamed into Back to Nature Natural Foods to purchase oak firewood throughout the day, CEO Lynn Ravare said.
The cold weather didn't appear to inflate alcohol sales in Beaufort County, though. Liquor store owners around the county said traffic in and out of the stores was steady throughout the day, but normal.
As business boomed for shops with provisions to offer, others closed early. For example, Tanger Outlet stores in Bluffton closed Tuesday afternoon and delayed their opening Wednesday.
Schools in both Beaufort County and Jasper County remained open Tuesday, but after-school activities were canceled and Wednesday classes were called off. Jasper County public schools also canceled school for students on Thursday; school staff will work after a delayed opening.
Beaufort County School District officials will decide by 4 p.m. Wednesday whether to hold classes Thursday, according to a news release. Information about closures will be posted to the district website, www.beaufort.k12.sc.us, and also will be reported at islandpacket.com and beaufortgazette.com as it is made available.
Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort and Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island both sent home most of their civilian employees at 1 p.m. Tuesday and will remain shut down until noon Thursday, the bases announced.
Garbage pickup could also be affected in Port Royal, town manager Van Willis said. Willis said garbage and recycling put out for Wednesday pickup might not be picked up until Thursday, depending on the weather.
Bridges around the county were being prepared by the S.C. Department of Transportation for salting or sanding to prevent ice buildup, which could be as thick as three-quarters of an inch in some areas, Baxley said. Bridges that ice over will be closed by the DOT on a case-by-case basis, he said.
Baxley said the American Red Cross will provide shelters from the cold in two Beaufort County churches -- Lowcountry Presbyterian Church on Simmonsville Road in Bluffton and Sea Island Presbyterian Church on Lady's Island Drive on Lady's Island. Those shelters opened Tuesday and will remain open as needed.
Temperatures began steadily dropping Tuesday, from morning highs in the 40s to the upper 20s by night. Temperatures Wednesday were expected to range from the low 20s to the low 30s, Packett said.
Temperatures will remain in the low 30s and could fall below freezing Wednesday night, which could mean ice and snow would refreeze Thursday.
Packett said the cold weather will pass by Thursday, but not by much -- temperatures are only expected to rise to the mid 40s.
Follow reporter Matt McNab at twitter.com/IPBG_Matt.
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