Storm-whipped seas smashed docks, flooded streets and eroded beaches in the Charleston area Monday as the remnants of Hurricane Irma bruised South Carolina’s Lowcountry after roaring through Florida and Georgia.
While Irma’s center never came close to the Palmetto State, the massive storm was strong enough to send tides to near historic levels at Charleston Harbor and create a storm surge of at least four feet, according to the National Weather Service.
Forecasters said Irma was so large that tropical storm force winds extended some 415 miles northeast of the storm’s center, which by early afternoon was in southwest Georgia.
Extremely high tides and heavy rain resulted in widespread, dangerous flooding in downtown Charleston, the weather service reported. Areas in the heart of Charleston’s historic section, from Calhoun Street to the Battery at Charleston Harbor, were “severely flooded,’’ officials said.
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One local resident said Irma’s punch rivaled that of Hurricane Matthew last year.
“It’s nasty,’’ said James Island resident Matt Eldridge after his dock washed away.
Monday’s events in Charleston resulted from a combination of hurricane-driven seas and higher-than-normal tides, which were expected because of this month’s full moon.
Weather service forecasters said another high tide overnight was not expected to bring the same level of flooding. Conditions had begun to improve by later afternoon and would continue to do so Tuesday, said Steve Hrebenach, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service.
“Gradually, we should see things settling down with the tide levels,’’ Hrebenach said.
The improving conditions forecast for Tuesday had to be welcome news to water-logged Charleston residents.
Even before high tide Monday, city officials had closed some downtown streets as water levels rose. Mattresses were floating in several inches of water in one place, according to ABC News in Charleston. Area officials urged some locals to move to higher ground.
Flooding prompted closure of a section of East Bay Street. East Bay is one of the main streets running through the Charleston peninsula downtown. The closed area was between Market and Cumberland streets. Rising water also shut down part of North Market Street. Flooding also shut down parts of the Savannah Highway. Those areas included the highway near the St. Andrews Boulevard ramp, as well as a stretch at Lockwood Drive and Folly Road.
“You are going to see some tidal surge or inundation,’’ Charleston Mayor John Tecklenburg warned during a weekend press conference.
Flooding occurring at James Island near the state Department of Natural Resources offices was substantial. Docks washed away and waves were reported crashing into some people’s yards.
“It really is bad down here,’’ state Rep. Peter McCoy, R-Charleston, said. “The wind gusts are very, very strong, the surge is extreme. The flooding is extreme.’’
McCoy posted a video on Twitter showing the extent of some of the flooding.
Eldridge, McCoy’s neighbor, said his 250-foot long dock on Charleston Harbor was gone. It was the second time in less than a year he’s lost the dock. Eldridge said he rebuilt the structure after Hurricane Matthew destroyed it last October. His home is behind the dock he lost.
“There are waves in the yard,’’ Eldridge said.
Beaches also were being eaten away by the storm. Homeowners on some stretches of beach, such as the Wild Dunes area of Isle of Palms, piled up sand bags in an effort to protect buildings near the ocean. Erosion and worse-than-expected flooding also were reported on Seabrook Island below Charleston.
“With tides like that, you’re always going to have some erosion,’’ Gov. Henry McMaster said during an afternoon news conference. “How bad it will be, we don’t know.’’
Rob Young, a coastal geologist at Western Carolina University, said communities that have replenished beaches with extra sand may see that investment washed away. Most beaches in the state are naturally eroding and many communities pump sand onto the shore to keep the beach wide. Storms can cause that sand to move back into the ocean.
Chris Augustine, a spokesman for the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control, said staff from his agency planned to survey the extent of beach erosion from the air Tuesday.
Monday’s erosion and flooding were fed by both what is now Tropical Storm Irma and high tides associated with the full moon this month, said Leonard Vaughan, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service. Full moon tides often are higher than those at other times of the month.
The city also is experiencing more frequent flooding as sea levels rise and threaten developed areas.
Charleston “gets flooding when they get into these high lunar cycles; it’s just commonplace,’’ Vaughan said. “Then you combine that with the circulation pushing moisture and wind in from the ocean on the coast — and you combine it with rain — and it makes things even more difficult.’’
Forecasters said the tide gauge at Charleston Harbor had surpassed the levels from Hurricane Matthew in 2016 and, at 2 p.m. Monday, was at its third-highest level on record.
Floodwaters should recede and erosion on beaches should lessen by Tuesday, according to the National Weather Service. Some sunshine may even poke through the clouds in the Lowcountry and winds should subside, Vaughan said. Clearing skies are forecast for the rest of the week.
Weather forecasters said flooding and high tides in Charleston resulted from an unusually wide hurricane that stretched from Florida to Alabama and into South Carolina.
Some storms, such as Hurricane Andrew that hit Florida 25 years ago, were powerful but fairly compact. The expansive Irma kept winds up and seas boiling well into the Atlantic off Georgia and South Carolina.
“This was producing rainfall from the Florida Panhandle to a good part of Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina and most of Florida,” Vaughan said.
Monday’s events followed a weekend of watching and waiting on South Carolina’s coast. With plenty of uncertainty about the storm’s track, the state ordered evacuations from sea islands in Beaufort, Jasper and Colleton counties as state emergency preparedness officials braced for the worst.
At one point forecast to hit near Hilton Head Island, Hurricane Irma turned west over the weekend toward Georgia and Alabama.