Columbia County families enjoyed a playful snow day Wednesday.
But just because county offices were closed doesn’t mean no one was working and planning for the worst.
“Last night, I thought we were going into a worst-case scenario,” county Emergency and Operations Director Pam Tucker said from Emergency Operations Center midday on Wednesday. “Worst-case scenario is icing on the trees and power lines causing power to go out.”
Tucker said losing power causes a ripple effect leading to opening shelters, providing medical care, meals and transportation to those in need of the shelters.
“We were ready to do that,” Tucker said. “But we hope it doesn’t happen, that we have to.”
The snow was more fun than problems.
As sleet was beginning to stick to trees and power lines Tuesday evening, Tucker and other county officials had known about and been preparing for the winter storm threat for more than 48 hours. And the planning for the latest weather threat began.
“Sunday, when the (winter storm) watch came out, that was the beginning,” Tucker said. “We started right then.”
In all actuality, the planning began much earlier and Tucker and her staff, along with county officials, prepare plans for a wide variety of emergency situations.
“I think we’re just organized to the point where we’re always kind of ready for it,” Deputy county Administrator Glenn Kennedy said from the EOC Wednesday. “So it’s just a matter of turning it on, flipping the switch (on the preparation process).”
Tucker set that process in motion at about 2:43 p.m. Sunday when she disseminated the National Weather Service’s warnings about impending and potentially dangerous weather. Less than two hours later, she was disseminating information to residents about how to prepare themselves and their home for the winter storm.
Tucker’s recommendations included having a stockpile of firewood, nonperishable food, emergency equipment, and water for drinking and cooking as well as charging mobile communications devices. She also provided information about safeguarding homes against below-freezing temperatures.
By midday on Monday, the county Roads and Bridges Department were moving equipment to remove downed trees and snow including three motorgraders, three backhoes and two front-end loaders to key locations around the county including the Martinez-Evans are as well as Appling, Harlem, Grovetown and Winfield.
A fuel truck topped off generators and carried 11 sets of snow chains for law enforcement vehicles as a back-up.
The Evans Fleet Services facility was stacked with equipment and 46 sets of snow chains for deputies’ vehicles.
The Appling fleet facility was ready with pre-checked radio system, fueled four-wheel drive vehicles, tested back up power systems, 60 sets of snow chains for law enforcement as well as checked and charged electronics.
“We were really blessed,” Tucker said of the light fluffy snow that caused no power outages.
Tucker said she was in the same position when the ice storm hit in 2004, knocking out power to some residents for two weeks. “I never want us to have to go through that again.”
By Wednesday morning, the county’s emergency equipment was in place, salt and gravel ready to be spread on any icy roadways and county officials and staff were ready to respond to any weather-related situations.
“A lot of yesterday was a waiting game and communicating the forecast,” Tucker said.
Sleet began early Tuesday afternoon and continued into the night when the snow began. What was left Wednesday morning was fluffy snow and only a few patches of icy roads.
Tucker said the Roads and Bridges staff added salt and gravel to icy patches including the Interstate 20 interchange at Belair Road, which was briefly closed because of ice.
No other of the prepared plans were set in motion because the storm didn’t lead to severe icing or thick snow.
Between midnight and 1 p.m. on Wednesday, Columbia County sheriff’s Capt. Steve Morris said deputies responded to 35 wrecks and disabled vehicles. None of those wrecks resulted in serious injuries and most were ice-related.
By closing everything, people are home,” Tucker said. “They are not out there having wrecks like a demolition derby. It’s not been bad.”