Tropical Storm Florence is weakening as it goes through South Carolina and reaches the Midlands. Now, the National Weather Service of Columbia says the storm is ready to drop another level.
Tropical Storm Florence should become a tropical depression by Saturday night, the NWS Columbia says.
As of noon Saturday, S.C. Gov. Henry McMaster lifted the evacuation order for Charleston, Dorchester, Berkeley and Colleton counties as the storm moved farther away from the S.C. coast.
Florence swept into the Midlands late Friday and is now “slowly” making its way across the area. The storm was moving west at 2 mph around lunchtime Saturday.
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Despite the weather system’s Friday downgrade to a tropical storm from a hurricane and its continued weakening, it continues to pose a threat to the Midlands with sustained rainfall anticipated.
The National Weather Service of Columbia says Florence will “move slowly westward through the central Midlands” on Saturday, bringing with it rains of two to four inches across Richland and Lexington counties and winds of 20 to 50 mph. The center of the weakening storm is forecast to reach the Midlands by Saturday afternoon or night.
“The strong wind gusts may down trees and power lines. The heavy rainfall will increase the risk of trees uprooting and toppling,” according to a NWS Columbia news release. “The largest threat will be from heavy rain and flooding, with excessive rainfall still possible in the Pee Dee region.”
Already the storm is impacting Richland and Lexington counties.
Several roads in Lexington County were closed Friday night and early Saturday morning because of downed trees and utility lines, the county reported. They included Corley Mill Road, Old Chapin Road, Catawba Trail and Wyatt Way. Utility lines went down on the 3800 block of Highway 6.
As the storm set in across the Midlands, the number of power outages significantly increased through early Saturday morning, with utilities reporting more than 150,000 without electricity. Richland County had around 1,100 outages, according to SCE&G.
Richland and Lexington counties continue to be under a flash flood watch as of Saturday morning. Richland County officials say to expect heavy downpours Saturday and smaller amounts of rain Sunday.
“Conditions will improve on Monday, but flooding on the area rivers will increase as the runoff from heavy rains moves through the river basins,” NWS Columbia says.
Winds will diminish on Sunday with conditions improving by Monday. Moderate flooding is possible along the Congaree River, according to NWS Columbia.
The highest wind gust in the Midlands as of early Friday evening was 51 mph at Shaw Air Force Base in Sumter. A 32 mph gust was recorded at Columbia Metropolitan Airport.
But what Florence’s final impact on the Midlands will be is no certain thing “because of possible track shifts,” NWS Columbia reported. “Rainfall amounts could vary substantially over a rather short distance.”
As of 8 a.m. Saturday, Florence’s maximum winds were recorded at 50 mph while its center was about 45 miles south-southeast of the town of Florence.
Isolated tornadoes will be possible in the northern Midlands and Pee Dee areas, which are expected to get between 8 to 15 inches of rain, according to NWS Columbia.
While Florence’s effects were expected to be much less in the western part of the state, the storm’s winds may have contributed to a death in Union County in the Upstate.
A 61-year-old woman was killed Friday night when she drove into a tree that had been blown into the roadway, Fox Carolina reported.
South Carolina emergency officials now are most worried about evacuated coastal residents trying to drive home before the storm has passed.
The evacuation order remains in effect for Berkeley, Charleston, Dorchester, Georgetown and Horry counties.
“Do not be lulled into a false sense of security,” said Derrec Becker, spokesman for the S.C. Emergency Managment Division.
Flooding will be the biggest threat to people’s lives and safety, and that will remain a problem after the wind and rain dies down.
Ten to 20 inches of rainfall are still expected for the Pee Dee region.
Tropical Storm Warning
A tropical storm warning is in now effect for Chesterfield, Lee, Sumter, Clarendon, Calhoun, Orangeburg, Lancaster, Kershaw, Fairfield, Richland, and Lexington counties, according to NWS Columbia.
Flash Flood Warning
NWS Columbia reported a flash flood watch is in effect for Lancaster, Chesterfield, Newberry, Fairfield, Kershaw, Saluda, Lexington, Richland, Lee, Sumter, Orangeburg, Calhoun, and Clarendon Counties.