Storm brings snow, freezing temperatures, snarls traffic
Winter Storm Grayson has certainly left a mark on Jasper County and the surrounding areas, leaving behind as much as 6 inches of snow in parts of Ridgeland and 3 inches in Hardeeville, according to the National Weather Service.
The frigid weather — temperatures plummeted into the low 20’s — and icy roads spurred school and business closings, some for more than two days because of hazardous road conditions from the storm.
The Jasper County School District, Thomas Heyward Academy, Royal Live Oaks, John Paul II Catholic School, Legacy Christian and Step of Faith academies planned to close Friday. The city of Hardeeville postponed its Thursday meeting until Tuesday, Jan. 9.
Emergency services officials were kept busy, noting numerous accidents, but as of Thursday morning there were no reported fatalities or storm-related life-threatening accidents.
Jasper County Fire-Rescue Public Information Officer Garrett Lucas said from 6 a.m. Wednesday until 5 p.m. Thursday, there were 106 traffic accidents worked in the county among JCFR or S.C. Highway Patrol. “These were wrecks with no injuries and no fatalities were reported,” Lucas said.
Lucas said Jasper County Fire-Rescue added a shift that was placed on duty during the bulk of the bad weather.
According to Lance Cpl. Matt Southern of S.C. Highway Patrol, from 6 a.m. Jan. 3 to 6 a.m. Jan. 4, the S.C. Department of Public Safety worked 916 collisions and assisted 315 motorists in the areas impacted by the storm statewide.
To help emergency officials, Gov. Henry McMaster gave formal authorization Thursday morning to the South Carolina National Guard to place guardsmen on active duty to assist in the recovery of areas affected by the storm.
The National Guard will be deploying resources to help the S.C. Highway Patrol’s and South Carolina Department of Transportation’s existing efforts along the Interstate 95 corridor and other affected areas.
“There are South Carolinians in need right now, and as always, the National Guard is ready, willing, and able to answer the call of duty and help the brave men and women at the Highway Patrol and Department of Transportation working to provide aid,” McMaster said.
Approximately 20 guardsmen have been called for duty to assist as part of two Vehicle Recovery Teams (VRT) and liason personnel to assist impacted counties, including Jasper, near the coast affected by snow and ice.
Hardeeville Police Chief Sam Woodward said Thursday morning that traffic was slowly moving along the interstate and his department had answered more than 100 calls for assistance from vehicle accidents and cars leaving the road because of the icy conditions.
“It has been one big traffic jam,” Woodward said. “We usually have one morning and one night shift on call, but due to the weather, we had two shift teams in the morning and two at night.
A shelter opened at Hardeeville-Ridgeland Middle School in part to help motorists stranded on the road, Woodward said. The American Red Cross said there were 86 people at the shelter.
“It has been touch and go since the storm began,” he said. “When they closed the bridges at the state line, the traffic began to come in our direction.”
South Carolina Highway Patrol Community Relations Officer Bob Beres said it’s important not to get on the roads unless it was absolutely necessary.
“We are still encouraging people not to drive right now because the conditions are still not good,” Beres said Thursday. “If possible, stay off of the roadways.”
The Ridgeland Fire Department had a few incidents to respond to during the storm, all of which were minor, according to officials.
“We responded to three collisions on Wednesday and two were on Interstate 95, with one on U.S. 17, all were minor,” Henry Criss, Ridgeland Fire Department Public Information Officer said Thursday.
Jasper County Sheriff Chris Malphrus said his office did not work traffic accidents, however they do assist when needed, such as during the winter storm.
“Between Hardeeville PD, Ridgeland PD and highway patrol, approximately 75 traffic accidents have been reported and about 50 more vehicles have been stuck, bogged down in the snow or slid off the roadway,” Malphrus said Thursday morning.
Malphrus said during the storm his officers transported Department of Social Services workers to and from the shelter and moved trailers and equipment for the Red Cross. They also took meals and water to the shelter.
“We pulled a lot of vehicles out of the ditches and heavy snow,” he said. “We also provided roadway conditions in the county to the emergency operations center. We wanted to make sure the elderly in the county were taken care of, so we also conducted a lot of welfare checks and responded to those who contacted us needing heaters and resources.”
What began as freezing rain Wednesday later developed into snow, causing drivers to halt their travels in Jasper County along Interstate 95. Many were stuck near Hardeeville.
Drivers found themselves stranded in part because a bridge from Georgia into South Carolina froze, leaving large trucks helpless in their attempts to cross it, according to officials. Other accidents and ice helped slow traffic to a crawl.
A motorist who contacted the Jasper County Sun Times said she was on the interstate Wednesday headed to Virginia and traveled an estimated 1,000 feet in four hours. The traveler said there were tractor trailers “all over the roads, either disabled or in a crash.”
A truck driver from Anderson said he was stuck near Exit 5 for almost seven hours.
According to the Associated Press, early Thursday the Department of Public Safety said parts of Interstate 95 from mile marker 77 around St. George south to the Georgia state line remain closed because of icy patches.
The storm was rare for the area. Recently, in January 2014, the county had light snow. In February 2010, parts of Ridgeland experienced 4 inches of snow.