Though it hasn't been a particularly cold winter in Columbia County so far, memories of past January ice storms have the Columbia County Roads and Bridges Department ready in case roads become treacherous because of severe weather.
"You don't have to be Nostradamus to know it's winter time, it's Columbia County and we're on what I call the iffy-line (between rain, ice and snow)," said Pam Tucker, Columbia County's director of emergency services.
Snow, sleet and ice typically strike the county overnight, Tucker said, and county staff monitor weather reports and are in constant communication when the threat of icy conditions occur.
Roads and Bridges assistant manager Tim Holloway said his staff will convert two trucks the county uses to fill potholes with gravel spreaders and convert a fleet of pickups that follow with a coarse rock salt mixture.
"We've got 660 miles of paved roads in the county that are county roads," Holloway said. "We've got nine bridges in the county and that's the first place we go when Miss Pam calls."
Holloway said the Georgia Department of Transportation is responsible for state highways, but his crews coordinate with the state to address problem spots and answer calls from the Columbia County Sheriff's Office or citizens when they come.
During an ice storm in January 2005, Holloway said his crews repeatedly salted the Belair Road and Interstate 20 interchange after numerous wrecks occurred even after the state had salted the roads.
In total, it takes county crews less than two hours to cover the bridges and most major arteries with salt, Holloway said.
"When it looks like we're going to get a half-inch or inch of ice overnight we'll go ahead and ... put our spreader gates on and go ahead and fill the trucks with (gravel and salt)," he said.
"We normally use between 8,000 and 10,000 pounds (of salt) in a good ice storm and public expense for these types of storms is about $50,000 to $60,000," Tucker said.
January and February are the coldest months of the year, said Tina Morrison, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in West Columbia, S.C.
Average temperatures for January are 55 degrees for highs and 33 degrees for lows, Morrison said.
Morrison called Columbia County and the Augusta area a "transitional area where it is prone to either ice or snow."
Morrison said the outlook for the next 30 days in the Augusta area is for an equal chance of above or below normal temperatures, and the same for above-normal precipitation.
Basic rules of the road apply with ice storms, Tucker said.
Drive slowly, keep plenty of distance between your car and the cars in front and don't slam on the brakes.
Another way the public can help, Tucker and Holloway said, is to remember to turn off sprinkler systems when temperatures are below freezing.
Holloway said businesses often have their sprinklers on timers and that their locations on major roads can be problematic.
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