South Carolina braced Friday for a long weekend of heavy rain that officials worried could flood roads, homes and neighborhoods across the state.
The forecast called for 10 to 15 inches of rain to fall through Sunday in the heart of the Midlands, according to the National Weather Service office at Columbia Metropolitan Airport, with lesser amounts – 5 to 10 inches – expected north and south of the Midlands.
If the weather service’s predictions are correct, a 68-year-old rainfall record for a 24-hour period in the Columbia area could fall, weather service meteorologists said. In 1949, 7.66 inches of rain fell over a 24-hour period from Aug. 16-17, the weather service said.
“We are forecasting amounts of that nature,” said meteorologist Dan Miller of the National Weather Service office at the airport.
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Gov. Nikki Haley said the state is facing a “historic rainfall event” that will lead to “massive flooding,” road closures and power outages.
Residents who live in low-lying areas should expect flooding and find shelter on higher ground during the storm’s duration of the storm if they can, Haley said at a news conference Friday afternoon with emergency officials at the S.C. Emergency Management Division.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency, also known as FEMA, has a team coming to South Carolina to help coordinate federal agencies’ response.
Haley and disaster officials also warned:
▪ Hurricane Jaoquin is a separate weather system from the rainfall hitting the state. Residents should prepare for severe rainfall regardless of the hurricane’s path.
▪ Power outages could take days to fix.
▪ Residents should avoid driving into standing water that could be masking power lines, trees, debris, septic waste and chemicals.
▪ Flash flooding could occur when it’s not raining outside as rain from North Carolina and elsewhere in the state courses through rivers and creeks.
▪ The rain and threat of flooding will go all day Saturday and Sunday, and possibly into Monday and Tuesday.
▪ Expect road closures. Residents can check road closures at the S.C. Department of Transportation’s website: scdot.org
The DOT had already closed roads in preparation. Anyone on the roadways should expect detours across the state, Haley said.
Haley said 1,000 National Guardsmen are working this weekend, and 150,000 sandbags are ready to be distributed. More are on the way, as emergency officials believe more will be needed.
People who do decide to drive should stay out of low-lying areas, because flash floods will occur without warning, said Adjutant General Robert Livingston.
“Once you’re trapped, we could be half-a-mile away and still can’t get to you in time,” he said.
Myrtle Beach experienced heavy rains and flooding on Friday, the weather service said, but little rain fell in the Midlands. Still, city and county officials were spread out across the region making final preparations.
The weather service on Friday predicted minor to moderate flooding for most of the state’s rivers, including the Congaree River at Columbia and Carolina Eastman. The only river predicted by the weather service to experience major flooding was at Stevens Creek near Modoc, just north of Augusta, Ga.
Richland County officials said they prepared for Joaquin just as they would for any hurricane, flood or other natural disaster that might threaten the region. “Our Emergency Operations Center is ready to go. We have people that are standing by to work in it, and our county departments are standing by,” said Michael Byrd, Richland County Emergency Services director.
Richland County has its own weather recording system in place, Byrd said, available at www.rcwinds.com. Reporting stations throughout the county send current information to the system on conditions such as wind speed, wind direction, rainfall, and other factors.
In conjunction with the National Weather Service, the county uses the data to warn residents as conditions warrant, Byrd said. Several areas in the region are prone to flooding without high levels of rain, including Five Points, Whaley Street at Assembly Street, and other parts of the Rocky Creek Basin.
In Lexington County, emergency services and public works staffers inspected 18 ponds — many a few acres or less — on Friday as a precaution to see if water needs to be released in advance of the storm, county public safety director David Kerr said.
Those checks will occur throughout the weekend. No one lives close to these, but a break could flood some roads, Kerr said.
Roddie Burris: 803-771-8398
Staff writers Jamie Self, Tim Flach and the Associated Press contributed.