UNION — A weather system that doesn’t normally occur in January produced a line of storms that had Union County under a tornado watch and a severe thunderstorm warning and produced heavy rains along with high winds that toppled trees blocking roads and causing power outages throughout Wednesday evening and into Thursday morning.
Doug Outlaw, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Greer, said the storm system that passed through Union County and the rest of the Upstate normally occurs in the spring, not in winter.
“It’s very unusual to have a very powerful system like this in January,” Outlaw said Thursday. “You would usually see this in April.”
Outlaw said the threat of severe weather was due to the movement of the winds at different levels in the atmosphere which created a rotation that held the potential to spawn tornadoes.
“The low level jet stream at about 5,000 feet above the ground was coming from a southerly direction,” Outlaw said. “Further up at 15,000 feet the winds were from a westerly direction and just as strong if not stronger. From that you can visualize the turning of the wind as you go up in the atmosphere. When you have the turning like that and thunderstorms you have the potential for tornadoes.”
Union County was under a tornado watch until 8 p.m. Wednesday and Outlaw said the eastern part of the county was under a severe thunderstorm warning from 7:40 p.m. to 8:45 p.m. He said the thunderstorm that prompted the warning, however, moved out of the county into Chester and York counties within minutes of the warning being issued.
Outlaw said the line of storms was followed by a cold front which resulted in a drastic change in temperature.
“There was a dramatic change in temperature here at Greenville-Spartanburg,” Outlaw said. “We went from a high of 70 degrees during the day to a low of 47 degrees before midnight. There was a similar change in Union County a couple of hours later.”
The high winds associated with the storm system toppled trees onto roads and power lines forcing county and state personnel to clear roads throughout the night.
“We had a couple of cases where we had trees across the road and we took care of them,” John Gibson, Union County Public Works director, said Thursday morning. “One was at about nine o’clock last night on Hames Avenue in Jonesville. The road was blocked but we had it cleared within an hour of it being reported. The other one was at four o’clock this morning on Cindy Lane off Pineland Road in Union. The road was completely blocked but we had it cleared within an hour of getting the report.”
The Union County office of the S.C. Department of Transportation also found itself dealing with fallen trees and blocked roads throughout the night.
“We had a lot of trees down, I think there was somewhere around ten,” Phil Hinson, the office’s resident engineer said. “The majority of them fell across the roads but some of them fell back onto people’s property. We worked all night long and are still working today to clean up the debris in people’s yards.
“Our main focus last night was keeping the roads clear,” he said. “The last thing we wanted was for an emergency responder not to have access in the event of an emergency.”
Hinson also pointed out that while it may appear in some places that SCDOT personnel are removing debris from private property, they are actually clearing it from state right-of-ways.
“The only areas that we maintain are in our right-of-ways,” Hinson said. “If you have a tree that falls on private property we’re not allowed to go on private property. Only if the tree is in our right-of-way can we remove it or if it falls in our right-of-way we can remove the portion that’s in our right-of-way.”
In addition to blocking roads, trees toppled by the winds also caused power outages which local utility departments had to deal with throughout the night.
Bruce Parker, transmission and distribution manager for Lockhart Power, said a tree limb fell and broke the power lines on Mill Street in Lockhart leaving approximately six people without power for about an hour. This was later followed by what he said were momentary outages elsewhere due to circuit breaker being tripped.
There were also outages in Union during the night.
“We had a few big trees blow over last night and break some poles,” Clarence Auton, electric construction and maintenance supervisor for the City of Union Utility Department, said. “One was around 7:30 at the corner of Lakeview Heights and Pineneedle Road. A pole broke on Park Drive and another real good size tree was blown over on Fant Lane and tore the wire and everything down.
“Power was out at the corner of Lakeview Heights and Pineneedle Road for about two hours,” he said. “Power was out on Park drive for about 30 minutes and for three hours on Fant Lane. The Beltline was also out from a tree for about an hour or so.”
Even though outages occurred at four locations, Auton said the number of people who lost power was small.
“It was about 15-20 total,” Auton said. “It could have been a whole lot worse. We got lucky.”
Editor Charles Warner can be reached at 864-427-1234, ext. 14, or by email at email@example.com.