January 24-26, 2004 Winter Weather Event

Cold high pressure from central Canada pressed southeastward during the day on Friday, January 23, 2004, and began building over the northern Mid Atlantic region on Saturday, January 24. High temperatures across South Carolina on the 24th reached into the 60s to 70 degrees in Allendale. The high in Columbia was 67 F. A backdoor cold front pressed into portions of extreme northern North Carolina late in the day on the 24th dropping temperatures to 32 F at Roanoke Rapids, N.C., by sunset. Temperatures south of the front in Raleigh, NC, were still in the 50s. The cold air moving down the eastern slope of the Appalachians was associated with a phenomenon called cold air damming, also known as CAD. CAD events are relatively frequent in the southeastern United States, especially during the winter months and frequently are associated with snow and ice events in the Carolinas and Viriginia. The cold, dry air continued to move south through the Carolinas and temperatures once in the 60s on Saturday in central South Carolina fell into the upper 30s and low 40s by the time precipitation began on early Sunday morning, January 25.

The precipitation was in association with a strong low-level jet stream of warm, moist air from the Gulf of Mexico and a wave of low pressure moving along the frontal boundary to the south. The initial round of precipitation was short-lived in the Midlands as the main region of snow, sleet, and freezing rain was oriented southwest to northeast across the upstate of South Carolina into central North Carolina. Spartanburg, Greenville, Union, Cherokee, York, Chester, and Lancaster Counties were particularly hard hit with snow and sleet accumulations totaling upwards of two inches in many locations. Precipitation tapered off across the Upstate overnight on Saturday, January 24, but not before a second area of precipitation began to form over southern Alabama and central Georgia toward daybreak on Monday.

Temperatures above the cold layer of air at the surface warmed significantly overnight Sunday, January 25, and the second round of precipitation fell as predominantly freezing rain with isolated pockets of sleet. Temperatures early on Monday morning, January 26, were in the mid 20s in Columbia with freezing temperatures reaching as far south in South Carolina as Hampton and Allendale Counties. This area of freezing rain also oriented itself from southwest to northeast across South Carolina, but was farther south encasing the southern Upstate, entire Midlands, and inland Coastal Plain in a glaze of ice. Total ice accumulations of 1/4 to 1/2 inch covered areas from Aiken to Greenwood to Lancaster and Florence. By mid-afternooon Monday, the precipitation began to shift eastward to locations along the coast and lost intensity as the day wore on. Meanwhile, a third upper-level disturbance moved out of the Gulf of Mexico over southern Mississippi and Alabama and into the state late on Monday evening providing one last blow of ice to the state.

The Upstate remained below freezing and initial sleet, snow, and ice continued to plague travel in those areas. Only light accumulations of freezing drizzle and patchy light freezing rain were observed. The final area of precipitation moved into the Midlands of South Carolina around 8 pm on Monday bringing with it additional accumulations of 1/8 to 1/4 inch widespread across the same areas hit earlier in the day on the 26th. Light drizzle and patchy rain continued across the state through the overnight hours on Monday night/Tuesday morning.

Below is a total ice accumulation map for the state from January 24-26. At one time every county in the state, with the exception of Jasper, Beaufort, and coastal Colleton Counties, was under either a Winter Weather Advisory or Winter Storm Warning. Forestry officials reported the most tree damage since Hurricane Hugo in 1989. Over 200,000 people were reported without power by South Carolina Emergency Management Division at 7pm on Monday with outages still reported a week later. Schools were closed in the upstate and midlands until Thursday. Unofficial reports attribute seven deaths in South Carolina due to the event. At least 57 deaths were blamed on the snow, ice, and cold from Kansas to the East Coast. Governor Mark Sanford of South Carolina issued a State of Emergency for the 37 disaster counties.

National Weather Service Storm Reports

State wide snow and ice totals

Ice accumulations from NWS Wilmington, NC

Pictures from the Rock Hill area of York county.

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Compiled by Jason Caldwell
S.C. Department of Natural Resources
Office of the State Climatology
2221 Devine Street, Suite 222
Columbia, South Carolina 29205-2418
(803) 734-9100