With Hurricane Ian’s track still uncertain, Beaufort County could see impacts of the storm as early as mid-week, according to the National Weather Service.
Starting Wednesday, high tides will increase the risk of coastal flooding in the area, Meteorologist Dwight Koehn said Monday. However, the greatest threat to Beaufort County will be moderate-to-heavy rainfall beginning Thursday evening and lasting through Friday. During that time, the county is expected to get from 5-7 inches of rain, however, he said to prepare for locally higher amounts.
Though it’s too soon to tell, the main concern is not the total amount of rainfall but how quickly it accumulates.
“It’s very, very tricky to figure out impact,” Meteorologist Ron Morales said during a Monday morning weather briefing.
Ian became a Category 1 hurricane Monday as it chugs through the Gulf of Mexico with Florida in its path. Once it hits landfall, the storm will begin to weaken but still could bring considerable rain and high winds as it makes its way across southern Georgia and South Carolina.
Preparations are already underway in Lowcountry towns and cities and Beaufort County.
Beaufort’s Public Works Department is inspecting generators at city buildings and filling sandbags and checking pumps, pond levels and major outfalls and tidal gates, said Kathleen Williams, a city spokesperson. It’s also inspecting drainage ditches, culverts and catch basins.
Port Royal also is doing what it can to prepare, Town Manager Van Willis said Monday, including clearing drainage boxes and removing drainage impediments. Boards also may be pulled in drainage ponds, Willis said, to increase outflow and capacity.
Heavy rainfall will likely end Saturday night, but a few showers may linger through Sunday, wrote severe weather liaison Frank Strait in a Monday news release.
Alongside heavy rainfall, gusty-to-tropical storm force winds are expected to rattle the county Wednesday night through Friday, with the highest gusts over coastal waters and the immediate coast. Winds are expected to whip around 20-25 mph, with gusts in the upper 30s. Strait noted “Saturday may also bring isolated gusts over 40 mph to much of the state.”
As of Monday, there was a less than 5% chance for hurricane force winds through Saturday, Morales said.
Isolated tornadoes and waterspouts are possible late Thursday and into Saturday. While Koehn said damage from the currently predicted winds could be “significant,” it’s not likely to cause “extreme damage.”
When Tropical Storm Elsa crossed Beaufort County in July 2021, thousands of people were without power and it spawned what was believed to be a tornado that roared through Port Royal and knocked down trees and power poles, damaged 40 buildings and caused a “wall of water” that hammered the waterfront. Back then, some rain gauges in the Mossy Oaks neighborhood recorded more than 7 inches of rain. When Elsa moved north of Beaufort County, the storm had maximum sustained winds of 40 mph.
In Hurricane Ian’s wake, winds coming in from the northeast have the potential to increase tides, which can cause high surf and dangerous rip currents. Tides could reach moderate-to major coastal flooding levels Thursday and possibly Friday, according to NWS predictions Monday.
Outlook for the beaches
Beach erosion is another concern, one that Morales said is particularly important because eroding-away dunes means less protection from increasing tide levels.
“Much of what South Carolina experiences will depend on where and when Hurricane Ian does makes landfall,” South Carolina Emergency Management Division Director Kim Stenson said.
On Monday morning, Hurricane Ian was deemed a Category 1 storm and was headed northwest at 13 mph toward Cuba, according to the National Hurricane Center. The 11 a.m. Monday update showed Ian had maximum sustained winds of 80 mph and was expected to rapidly strengthen.
Forecasters expected Hurricane Ian to hit Cuba as a Category 3 later Monday or early Tuesday, the Miami Herald reported.
Derrec Becker, SCMED spokesman, reiterated that until Ian’s track and landfall impact are known, it’s hard to say what kind of residual hit Beaufort County will take.
“Some tracks have it moving across Florida into the (Atlantic) ocean, which is the worst case scenario for us,” Becker said. “Some have it going into the (Florida) panhandle or into lower Alabama, which unfortunately for Alabama would be the best case for South Carolina.”
Despite the unknowns for the Lowcountry, meteorologists urged people to prepare. But Koehn’s first step is easy: “Don’t panic,” he said.
High winds means anything outdoors that could blow over needs to be brought inside. People who live in low-lying areas should consider purchasing sand bags to avoid yard flooding. And while is may be tempting to try drive through flooded areas, the National Weather Service always reminds people to “turn around — don’t drown.”
As of Monday, storm impacts in the Lowcountry are predicted to continue through Saturday morning.
Beaufort County will coordinate decisions related to evacuations, shelters, etc., if that becomes necessary, Beaufort’s Williams said. Check the county’s Storm Center page at https://bcso.net/storm-center/.
Maj. Angela Viens, a spokesperson for Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office, said the office has regular briefings with the National Weather Service and National Hurricane Center.
“As it stands right now,” Viens said, “we are monitoring the storm.”