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Southern Courts Close as Rare Storm Descends

(CN) - Scores of courts across the Deep South closed Tuesday as state officials braced for what many expect to be its biggest winter storm in decades.

While many courts in South Carolina, Georgia, Mississippi, Alabama and Louisiana did not open at all Tuesday, those that did plan to close early as the developing storm moves east.

South Carolina Supreme Court Chief Justice Jean Hoefer Toal had directed courts on Monday evening to close in a swath of counties from the coast to the Midlands region around the state capitol of Columbia.

Affected courts include: Aiken, Allendale, Bamberg, Barnwell, Berkeley, Calhoun, Chesterfield, Clarendon, Darlington, Dillon, Dorchester, Edgefield, Fairfield, Florence, Greenwood, Hampton, Horry, Jasper, Kershaw, Lancaster, Laurens, Lee, Lexington, Marion, Marlboro, McCormick, Newberry, Orangeburg, Richland, Saluda, Sumter, Union and Williamsburg.

Unless directed otherwise, Toal said these courts should also remain closed on Wednesday.

Four courts - Beaufort, Charleston, Colleton and Georgetown - were directed to follow the leads of their respective counties when it comes to closing.

Of these, Georgetown and Colleton Counties chose not to open today, while Charleston County closed its offices at noon. Beaufort County is closing at 2 p.m. today.

Colleton and Beaufort Counties meanwhile already announced that they will be closed on Wednesday and reopen for business on a delayed schedule Thursday.

As the storm is expected to be largely a coastal event, Toal said courts in the upstate counties were expected to remain open for their normal hours on Tuesday - unless a change in the direction of the storm dictated otherwise.

These counties include: Abbeville, Anderson, Cherokee, Chester, Greenville, Oconee, Pickens, Spartanburg and York.

The unusual winter storm is forecast to hammer a region extending from the Texas Gulf Coast to the Carolinas and southeast Virginia with freezing rain, sleet and snow. Already, Delta Airlines, which uses Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport as a major hub, has canceled 1,500 flights, causing ripple effects across the nation.

Officials in Texas, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, the Florida panhandle and the Carolinas have already activated emergency management personnel, closed school districts and warned residents to stay off the roads if they can.

In South Carolina, Gov. Nikki Haley declared a state of emergency and placed the National Guard on stand by.

Maj. Cynthia King, a spokeswoman for the South Carolina National Guard, spoke of "contingency plans and options for the governor to use" its capabilities if needed.

In the meantime, the South Carolina Department of Transportation started pretreating major roadways throughout the state in advance of the storm.

The agency said 1,583 maintenance employees will be working during the storm and after, with 77 tons of salt and 98 tons available.

South Carolina endured its last major snowfall on Dec. 23, 1989, the same year the state took a direct hit from Hurricane Hugo. On that date, a total of 8 inches fell in the Lowcountry and 7 inches were measured along the Grand Strand, including in Myrtle Beach. Considerably less - 1 or 2 inches fell in the Midlands during that storm.

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