Brandon Gray just saw snow for the first time.
"Oh, it's tight," the 12-year-old Columbia Middle School pupil said Wednesday, seconds after being dismissed early from school and seeing an inch-thick blanket of white on the lawn.
It was only the beginning of a two-day storm that dumped several inches of ice and snow on Columbia County, causing county offices, businesses and schools to close and emergency workers to scramble.
Pam Tucker, the county Emergency Services director, said it was the county's worst winter storm since 1988, when the county shut down for three days "like we are today," she said Thursday.
"This one ranks right up there," she said. "It's been several years since we had anything like this."
The snow began falling began about noon Wednesday and kept police, fire and emergency management workers busy as several cars drifted off thoroughfares into ditches. Furys Ferry Road at The Pass, parts of Blue Ridge Drive and Lewiston Road near Interstate 20 were closed for several hours Thursday. Authorities said more closings could occur.
A cardinal sifts through the snow covering a birdfeeder to find an afternoon snack.
Photo by Jim Blaylock
According to Columbia County sheriff's Capt. Steve Morris, officers responded to 49 wrecks between noon Wednesday and noon Thursday.
"Most of them involved cars in ditches," he said.
But Tucker said that things could have been much worse.
"For the most part, everyone got home last night and stayed there," she said. "And that was what we asked. That was very much appreciated. I think that prevented major injuries and possible fatalities, because this is the type of weather where you can have a lot of fatalities."
By 2:15 p.m. Wednesday, Columbia County police were not reporting any ice on roads. Columbia County sheriff's Deputy Eric Ligon was on school patrol duty a little earlier because schools closed about 30 minutes early.
"I haven't had anything freeze," he said. "At least not yet."
Still, Mary Burnett - who picked up her sixth-grade granddaughter, Ariana Creighton - said she was glad school closed.
"I think it was a wise decision in light of the fact that our area is not affected by these type weather conditions often," Burnett said. "Hopefully, it won't inconvenience people too much."
Evans High School 11th-grader Lauren Potocik welcomed the early dismissal.
"I got out of chemistry class," she said.
Two hours later, the roads began to freeze. Crews were dispatched to a couple of overpasses to put sand on ice. The parking lot of the sheriff's office's substation in Evans started to freeze, and schools were closed for the next day.
On Thursday, residents awoke to 4 1/2 inches of snow atop 1/4 inch of ice.
Officers had 50-pound bags of salt in their patrol cars to place on roads as needed. For larger jobs, Roads and Bridges workers were called in.
"A light dusting is to be expected every year," Morris said. "And we always like to see a little bit of snow. But once it gets into the 4- or 5-inch range, then we really start experiencing problems, particularly with traffic and accidents."
Many residents took advantage of the snowfall. Shirley Youngsman spent Thursday helping her 5-year-old twin daughters, Amy and Allison, make their first snowman. He was slightly taller than the girls.
"They were so excited last night," said Youngsman, a resident of Springlakes subdivision. "This is the first time we've been able to do something like this."
Meanwhile, Angie Whitesell of Martinez and her son Noah, 5, helped neighbors build a firefighter snowman to honor the victims of Sept. 11.
"Noah's got a lot of hats, and he had a fireman's hat left over from his birthday," Whitesell said. "And they (the neighbors) brought a flag out. So, it was just perfect."
The Gilliland family trekked through the snow from their Martinez home to the Columbia Road Kroger, making snow angels along the way.
"It was like we were dropping bread crumbs to be able to get back," said Mike Gilliland, who stayed home from work because of the icy roads.
The Gillilands also took a few minutes to make a snowman in front of the grocery store.
"We just wanted to build the Kroger snowman," Gilliland said.
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