Our view

Getting prepared for another winter storm

February 10, 2014 

Local and state officials in South Carolina made all the right calls during the recent snow and ice storm that hit the eastern half of the U.S., including much of the Southeast. And with more wintry weather predicted for Tuesday, we hope they make the right decisions again.

Gov. Nikki Haley said last week that she was proud of the state’s response to the storm. She discreetly neglected to mention that she was glad the state didn’t follow Atlanta’s example.

Atlanta, sad to say, turned out to be the example of everything that can go wrong. Thousands of cars were stranded on highways; thousands of children had to spend the night at their schools because buses couldn’t take them home; thousands of accidents occurred on the icy roads.

It is somewhat unfair to compare Atlanta, a metropolitan area with 39 counties and nearly 6.1 million residents, to other areas that had to cope with the storm. The scale was entirely different.

But the essential contrast in the response of South Carolina vs. Atlanta was undeniable. South Carolina made decisions early to close schools, call on emergency agencies and send state workers home; Atlanta didn’t.

Haley also took something of a gamble and declared a state of emergency early on Jan. 28, hours before the first icy sleet began to fall. But it turned out to be the right choice. The same can be said for school officials in Fort Mill and Lancaster County, who ended classes early on the afternoon of the first day a storm was expected then canceled classes entirely the following day.

Local school officials also did an excellent job communicating with the public both directly and through the media with email, robo calls and text alerts.

South Carolina state officials said their single mantra was: Make decisions early so you can control the situation before the situation controls you. But to some extent, the success of that approach was a matter of luck.

The worst of the snow and ice arrived during the night of Jan. 28, a Tuesday, or before dawn the next day, when most people were safely in their homes. Schools across the state had elected to close early or not to open at all on Tuesday in anticipation of the storm.

Government offices closed and Department of Public Safety crews were activated. As a result, the state experienced no major highway backups, no widespread loss of power and few life-threatening situations associated with the weather.

If the state had done all this, if Haley had declared a state of emergency, and the storm hadn’t materialized, everyone might have looked a little silly. As it was, everybody looked brilliant.

But that was last month. Much of the South will be under a winter storm watch again this week, with a predicted 50 percent chance of snow in our area on Tuesday and possibly Wednesday.

The forecast is eerily similar to the one that preceded the last storm, and state and local officials throughout the region again will have to roll the dice about whether or when to close schools, close roads and bridges, send workers home and deploy the salt trucks. Listening to meteorologists and making decisions early – erring on the side of caution if necessary – again seems to be the right choice.

The storm might turn out to be just a few stray flakes of snow, but it pays to be ready. Just ask Atlanta.

From The Herald

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