Why the South is not ‘overreacting to a little snow’

January 29

If you’re having a hard time understanding why a few inches of snow and ice have paralyzed the Southeast over the past two days, try taking a look at the temperatures across most of the region on Monday afternoon.

In Charleston, S.C., it was 63 degrees at 3:15 p.m.

And yes, that is close to the 58 degree average highs that South Carolinians rightly expect in January. Welcome to the subtropics! Where the rewards for sweating through balmy summers are mild winters.

Until they aren’t.

Rob Fowler, the chief meteorologist with NBC’s Storm Team 2 in Charleston, says this week’s arctic blast ranks high among only a handful of winter weather events in the past three decades. Fowler has held his position for 27 years, and for all intents and purposes, is the weatherman for Charlestonians.

There was the time in 1973 that he missed what everyone calls “the big snow.” And the one in 1989, the winter after Hurricane Hugo (which is how most people in South Carolina judge the passing of time).

But unlike with hurricanes, no one is prepared for snow, or worse, several inches of ice, Fowler says. People don’t know how to dress. “They don’t layer, they’ll go out in a light jacket when they should have three layers on,” he said. And like anything we are unaccustomed to, it can be scary.

“We just reached a wind chill of 1. People are freaking out, as well they should be,” he said. “Today’s high … is not even going to equal our normal low.” To put this further in perspective, some teenagers have never seen a real accumulation of snow, much less learned to drive in it. Tuesday night, city officials made a difficult decision to close the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge, the main thoroughfare that connects the suburb of Mount Pleasant to the peninsula of Charleston. The Don Holt Bridge was also closed for most of Wednesday. For Washingtonians, this would be the equivalent of shutting down both Key Bridge and Memorial Bridge. In other words, panic-inducing.

 

“It pretty much means we can’t go anywhere,” Fowler said. “We don’t have tornado sirens here because we don’t have a lot of tornadoes. We don’t get ice and snow that often, so we don’t budget for salt and plows and manpower to do this kind of stuff.”

Luckily, South Carolina has fared much better than neighboring Georgia and Alabama. There have been no fatalities there, and no students have been stranded in schools.

 

Post and Courier reporter Jeremy Borden says most residents seemed to heed warnings and get off the roads before the snow started. And are finding creative ways to bide their time — ice sledding on a Boogie Board in rain boots anyone?

There’s nothing like winter in the South.

RELATED:

The South’s disastrous response to the winter storm in 16 pictures

 South paralyzed by 2 inches of snow

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Caitlin Dewey · January 29