The National Weather Service issued storm surge and tropical storm watches Tuesday for Beaufort County as Hurricane Ian’s track has taken a shift eastward.
“It puts it closer to the water on the Atlantic side, which is more troubling for us, particularly for maybe some stronger winds ... and some higher storm surge,” said Ron Morales, meteorologist with National Weather Service’s Charleston office.
A storm surge watch means life-threatening inundation from rising water moving inland from the coastline has the possibility to hit the area within the next 48 hours, according to the NWS. Peak storm inundation has the potential for 2-4 feet above ground somewhere within surge prone areas. The window of concern begins Wednesday.
Storm surge is what officials use when determining who to evacuate. By NOAA
A tropical storm watch indicates that tropical storm-force winds are possible in the area within the next 48 hours. The peak wind forecast is 35-45 mph with gusts to 55 mph, and the most likely time for tropical storm-force winds is early Friday morning through Saturday morning.
While Hurricane Ian is expected to make landfall in Florida on Wednesday, “a lot of uncertainty on (the storm’s) impact” on South Carolina remains, Morales said, adding that it’s “hard to pin down direct threats and timing.”
Currently, the storm is classified as a Category 3 hurricane. Ian is moving north at 10 mph with 120 mph winds, and is about 255 miles south of Sarasota, Florida, NWS officials said Tuesday afternoon.
“As it gets up into our area, where is it going to go?” Morales posed. “Is it going to slow down again or is it going to eject out? All of that matters with how much rainfall we’re going to get.”
It’s possible Ian could cross Florida into the Atlantic before turning north and directly impacting the coast, said John Quagliariello, meteorologist with National Weather Service’s Columbia office, during a Tuesday afternoon press conference.
“Whenever the tropical system is out over warmer waters, it has potential to at least maintain intensity or maybe even strengthen a little bit,” he said. “So that’s why we want to closely monitor for if it does make it into the Atlantic.”
But Quagliariello said it’s still too early to have those answers, and despite knowing whether the storm will stay inland or move out into the ocean, the impacts are “generally going to be the same.”
Even with the ever-evolving storm track, the anticipated impact for Beaufort County still held Tuesday afternoon that heavy rainfall will be the primary threat to the area. NWS Charleston meteorologist Neil Dixon said Tuesday morning the most likely scenario “is going to have pretty heavy” effects on Beaufort.
On Tuesday, the National Weather Service’s alerts said 4-8 inches of rain is predicted to inundate the county, with some locally higher amounts. Most areas in Beaufort County will see 6 inches of rainfall, Dixon noted, with the culmination having the biggest impact on Friday.
Starting Wednesday, weather in the Lowcountry will begin to deteriorate, likely causing minor coastal flooding during the high tides, Dixon said. Thursday will be noticeably windy and gusty, and breakers could climb as high as 5 feet. Coinciding with high tide, those breakers could make their way up to or beyond dunes.
Tide predictions from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration show Wednesday morning’s high tide at about 8.8 feet and the evening’s around 8 feet. Thursday morning’s high tide is predicted to be nearly 9 feet.
Heavy rainfall is expected to begin as early as Thursday evening and follow into Friday, with peak amounts falling that evening.
On Friday, Hurricane Ian’s effect on Beaufort County will “add up,” Dixon said. The most likely scenario for the county pose what he called a “handful of hazards” that could have a “pretty significant impact.” Beginning Friday and into Saturday morning, there’s a window for possible tornadoes.
Expected tropical storm-force wind gusts combined with rainfall is likely to down trees and power lines. High winds can damage porches, awnings, carports, sheds, and unanchored mobile homes, according to NWS. Some roads may be impassable due to debris, and for high-profile vehicles, there could be hazardous driving conditions on bridges and other elevated roadways.
The high surf on beaches could lead to potentially “significant” erosion, Dixon said. Beach erosion is of particular concern as the dune system is a first-line defense to rising tides.
“If it was just one high-tide cycle, then that’s a much shorter window of ... the waves washing up and over and around the dunes, but we’re going have three,” he said. “That’s going to lead to greater and greater period of erosion.”
Storm surge impacts can cause minor to moderate damage to marinas, docks, boardwalks, piers and some small crafts can be broken away from moorings, the service said.
The potential impact of flooding could be significant, with moderate rainfall flooding prompting rescues. Rivers and tributaries could become swollen with swifter currents and overspill their banks in a few places, according to NWS. Small streams, creeks, canals and ditches could overflow.
Dixon said NWS Charleston is working with the National Hurricane Center and the Weather Prediction Center to gauge the impact Hurricane Ian could have on the Lowcountry.
“There’s ways for the storm to look worse for our area and also better, but right now we’re mainly concentrating on what’s most likely at this point and then adjust from there,” he said.
At some point Saturday, when cold front comes through the county, constant rain will let up and will become scattered showers and thunderstorms.
During a Tuesday afternoon press conference, Gov. Henry McMaster assured that South Carolina is “fully prepared for whatever comes.”
“We know that we’re going to experience some rough weather, and we’ll be making announcements as necessary,” the governor said, adding that he didn’t think it was time to declare a State of Emergency.
Evacuation and road closure plans have not been activated, according to McMaster. Nanette Edwards, the Office of Regulatory Staff’s executive director, said sporadic power outages are anticipated. She added that fuel supplies are in good shape.
In the meantime, while officials get a firmer grasp on Ian’s track, the governor encouraged residents to go about their daily lives but also prepare for the worst.
“If you live in a low-lying area or a coastal area, you definitely need to have a plan,” said Kim Stenson, South Carolina Emergency Management Division Director.
Stenson urged residents to do the following:
This story was originally published September 27, 2022 12:49 PM.