Emergency preparedness officials in Horry and Georgetown counties moved into OPCON 4 levels Thursday to gear up for possible flooding from Hurricane Joaquin, now a category 4 storm, and the additional rain from a low pressure system in the Gulf of Mexico.
Coastal counties should expect heavy rain through the week until a lull on Saturday, but the rain will start back up Sunday until possibly early Tuesday, said Mike Caropolo, meteorologist with The National Weather Service in Wilmington, N.C.
While South Carolina is outside the storm’s error cone, emergency management officials urge residents to be prepared as the storm passes Carolina coastal areas.
“The biggest threats to our area are the potential for flash floods and dangerous maritime conditions. All low lying areas, areas prone to flooding, and communities along the Waccamaw River should use extra caution and prepare for potential flooding,” Horry County spokeswoman Lisa Bourcier said.
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S.C. Governor Nikki Haley declared a state of emergency around 6:30 p.m. Thursday, which enables agencies to “better coordinate resources jointly and respond to requests for state assistance from county emergency managers,” according to a release.
The Grand Strand will see gusty winds Saturday and Sunday and up to 10 to 15 inches of rain possible from Thursday through the weekend, Caropolo said.
With all the recent rainfall, flooding is likely, he said.
“Roadways, flooding and any small creeks that flow near the roadways are going to become a problem for us,” Caropolo said Thursday night.
Steven Pfaff, with The National Weather Service in Wilmington, N.C., said that the combination of saturated ground and high winds could lead to downed trees and possible power outages.
Hurricane Joaquin strengthened to a category 4 hurricane as of 2 p.m. Thursday, making it a major storm as warm waters near the Bahamas created favorable conditions as the system churned and picked up force, weather authorities said.
Pfaff said the hurricane could be a “maritime mess” for northeast South Carolina and southeast North Carolina, depending on the track the storm takes.
Pfaff said there are multiple storm track models out there now, but there are two models that are the most likely paths of the storm.
One of these models shows the storm taking a “left hook” toward the mid-Atlantic and Southeast Carolina coastline, which would bring high winds and flooding to the Grand Strand, Pfaff said.
Another likely model predicts the storm will get kicked farther out to sea after it sweeps across the Bahamas. Pfaff said if that happens Carolina waters would still be rough with rip currents and some coastal flooding, but residents won’t see the same amount of intensity of inland flooding that the other model suggests.
However, Pfaff stressed that even if the storm moves far out to sea, the Grand Strand and parts of North Carolina coasts will still see very dangerous rough waters with rip currents, large swells, and record rainfall levels.
“It’s a fairly impressive storm,” Pfaff said. “It’s not going to take much for our area to see flooding issues.”
Caropolo said the storm seems to be trending east and may drop to a category 2 hurricane later this week.
Horry and Georgetown counties have gone on alert status preparing for the storm and talking with state emergency management, the National Weather Service, and other coastal communities that are closely watching the storm and reviewing all operational plans, officials said.
Pat Dowling, North Myrtle Beach city spokesman, said the North Myrtle Beach area is also preparing for the expected heavy rainfall.
“City personnel are aware of those areas in our city that tend to flood when large amounts of rain falls within a short window of time, and public safety personnel are prepared to close those off and respond to any emergencies that might occur. Public works personnel are also prepared to step in to help where they can,” Dowling said in a release.
He said North Myrtle Beach officials have purchased and installed new filter membranes for its Main Street Ocean Outfall, and they have also eliminated mulch from their landscaping, which clogged up the membranes during a previous storm.
Residents are urged to be prepared for whatever the storm may bring and have an emergency plan in place.
Hurricane supply kit suggestions
▪ Non-perishable food
▪ Drinking water (two gallons per person per day)
▪ Flashlights with extra batteries and bulbs
▪ First aid kit
▪ Non-electrical can opener
▪ Necessary medications and prescriptions
▪ Needed supplies for any children
▪ Needed supplies for any pets
▪ Important documents (insurance policies, photo ID, tax records, bank information, etc.)
▪ Toiletries and other personal hygiene items
▪ Cash and credit cards
▪ Weather radio with extra batteries