Columbia got smacked Monday night with a downpour so heavy that the chances of that much rain falling so quickly would occur about once in 200 years, according to weather data.
Just 10 months after the Midlands suffered through what was deemed a 1,000-year rainfall and flood, parts of Columbia and Forest Acres saw what could be considered a once-in-200-years drenching by standards set out by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Monday’s deluge was “one of the worst I’ve seen,” Columbia Public Works director Robert Anderson said. “It’s probably in the Top Five.”
The best chance for another round of thunderstorm and the damage they can cause is Tuesday night with the probabilities diminishing as the work week ends, forecasters said.
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Monday’s rainfall amount was “extraordinary,” National Weather Service meteorologist Dan Miller said. The weather service issued flash flood warnings at 8:26 p.m. and at 9:52 p.m., he said.
Storms that moved into the Midlands from the Upstate collided with storms already sitting over the Forest Acres area. That produced more than 4.6 inches of rain falling in 90 minutes at Trenholm Park in Forest Acres, according to rain gauges monitored by Richland County.
Those gauges also show that Martin Luther King Park in Five Points received more than 3.5 inches in 44 minutes.
Monday night’s storm damaged hundreds of dollars in merchandise at Bluetile Skateshop, said Andrew Thomas, who has worked at the Harden Street store on and off since it opened 15 years ago.
Thomas said the city has put a lot of work and money into trying to improve drainage and fix the flooding problem, but it never seems to get better.
The city routinely cleans storm water grates in Five Points and it built a detention pond in King Park to capture the flow of water so that it leaches more slowly into the ground and drainage system, said Joey Jaco, Columbia’s utilities director.
Asked if the city has done enough to address the issue, the skate shop’s Thomas said, “Obviously not, because it still floods all the time.”
Don McCallister, co-owner of Loose Lucy’s, has been in business in Five Points for 24 years. His shop got hit by the flash flood Monday, he said, but experience has taught him and his wife to be are ready.
“It has happened many times,” McCallister said Tuesday. “We’ve learned to be vigilant. We don’t store things on the floor because this can happen very spontaneously.”
When Loose Lucy’s floods, water tends to come in through the front door, under the walls from nearby shops and especially through the back of the store. He and his wife keep the door leading from the main part of the shop to the back area packed with sandbags on a daily basis.
TJ Watts, the manager of Zesto’s on Forest Drive, is used to water creeping into his restaurant as many as two or three times a year thanks to storm drains that regularly clog in front of the restaurant.
“I’ve been here almost 14 years, and nothing’s changed,” Watts said, noting that requests to Forest Acres and Columbia officials to fix the drainage problems appear to have fallen on deaf ears. “Either we go out there and clean it and let the water drain, or it comes in our restaurant and all of us lose our jobs,” he said.
The downpour gave Joey Windell a scare. He said he was working at Wild Wing Cafe in the Vista when the rain started. He managed to make it home, but it was a harrowing experience.
“You could definitely see how the water was getting deeper and deeper,” Windell said. “Not something you want to see with a small four-door car that sits low to the ground.”
Here is a tally of the storm’s aftermath.
▪ Rocky Branch, which flows through Five Points and the University of South Carolina campus, reached its third-highest water level ever recorded – 12.04 feet – at Main and Whaley streets downtown, an intersection infamous for flash flooding.
Fixing the stream all the way to the Congaree River would cost about $40 million, the city’s Jaco said.
▪ The Columbia Fire Department responded to 18 flooded vehicles and helped a citizen get out of an apartment that was flooding.
▪ Some 11,300 people lost power in Richland and Lexington counties Monday night. Nearly all were restored on Tuesday.
▪ The S.C. Highway Patrol responded to 46 collisions, 28 stranded motorists, 23 trees in the road and 10 flooded roadways in the Midlands, mostly in Richland and Lexington counties.
▪ The Columbia area should be prepared for more rain and storms to come Tuesday night, Wednesday and Thursday before the weather clears up over the weekend.
Already wet ground could put more trees in danger of toppling should strong wind gusts come through.
▪ The S.C. Department of Transportation has extra crews on standby in the Midlands, said Tony Magwood, the resident maintenance engineer for SCDOT in Richland County.
▪ City Hall has encouraged neighborhoods around Five Points to postpone outdoor activities at least on Tuesday, including National Night Out festivities, according to the Columbia Council of Neighborhoods.
▪ City workers have provided barricades in Five Points to protect drivers from driving on flood-prone roads. And the Five Points Association is asking residents in surrounding neighborhoods to consider bagging their yard clippings and debris to keep them from floating into Five Points and clogging storm drains.
Monday rainfall totals in Columbia area
5.44 inches (4.64 inches in 1.5 hours) – Trenholm Park in Forest Acres.
3.82 inches (1.02 inches in 10 minutes; 3.46 inches in 44 minutes) – Martin Luther King Park in Five Points.
3.67 inches (3.08 inches in 56 minutes) – Jim Hamilton-L.B. Owens Airport in the Rosewood neighborhood.
3.11 inches (0.99 inches in 10 minutes) – University of South Carolina campus.
Sources: State Climatology Office, National Weather Service, Richland County Emergency Services Department