January is the most likely month for freezing rain and sleet to occur in South Carolina, and the S.C. Department of Natural Resources’ State Climatology Office advises residents to use extreme caution when traveling during severe winter weather.
Mark Malsick, severe weather liaison at the State Climate Office in the S.C. Department of Natural Resources (DNR), said sleet and freezing rain develop as warm, moist air flows over the top of a cold surface layer in the atmosphere. The depth of the cold air at the surface determines the precipitation type that falls to the ground. When the cold air is limited to the lowest portion of the atmosphere raindrops that make contact with objects with temperatures at or below the freezing mark, including trees, power lines, and roadways, become coated with a glaze of ice. Sleet forms when the depth of the cold air is sufficient to freeze the raindrops into pellets of ice. While still a danger to travelers, sleet has a tendency to accumulate less on trees and power lines. Frequently, however, sleet and freezing rain mix together to create an extremely hazardous situation leaving people without power for days at a time and making travel treacherous.
To obtain weather and climate information send an e-mail to Mark Malsick at MalsickM@dnr.sc.gov, or call him direct at (803) 734-0039 or call the Columbia office at (803) 734-9100.
Two events in the past few years serve as excellent examples of the severe conditions created due to ice storms. During Dec. 4-5, 2002, a large portion of South Carolina received freezing rain and sleet that accumulated to more than an inch and a half in areas of the upstate. The impact of the storm on the public included several-hundred-thousand power outages, numerous traffic accidents, and many homes damaged or destroyed by falling trees. More recently, a significant ice storm on Jan. 24-26, 2004, crippled much of central and eastern South Carolina with more than an inch of ice accumulation. Locations from the Midlands to the coast experienced power outages that lasted up to a week. Prior to the January 2004 storm, high temperatures soared into the 60s across South Carolina - a reminder that the caveats of winter weather can strike with little advance warning.
Malsick stresses the importance of preparing for the adverse effects of severe winter weather, especially ice storms, which can cripple the state in a short amount of time. Use radio and television to check on impending weather conditions frequently when the threat of ice is in the forecast of local meteorologists.
The South Carolina State Climatology Office offers weather and climate information on numerous phenomena, including floods, rainfall, drought and severe weather. The goal of the State Climatology Office is to provide the public with the information necessary to save lives in the face of adverse weather conditions and to provide useful and reliable information for all sectors of the business world.