Michael could hit Columbia harder than Florence, forecasters say

Hurricane Michael could hit South Carolina’s capital city harder in some ways than Hurricane Florence did, according to forecasters at Columbia’s National Weather Service office.

Michael is expected to bring potential tropical storm wind gusts and isolated tornadoes to central South Carolina starting late Wednesday or early Thursday, forecasters say.

Richland and Lexington counties were placed under a tropical storm warning as of Wednesday morning, meaning tropical storm force winds (39 to 73 mph) are expected in the area within 36 hours. The National Weather Service issued a flash flood watch for the Midlands area just after 2:30 p.m. Tuesday, and it remains in effect through Thursday evening. The Lowcountry remains under a tropical storm watch.

The latest models show Michael, now a Category 3 hurricane, moving across eastern and central Georgia and central South Carolina on Wednesday night and Thursday as a tropical storm.

Winds of 50 to 70 mph will be felt in parts of the Carolinas as early as 8 p.m. Wednesday, the National Hurricane Center said Tuesday. The Midlands should expect to feel an impact as early as mid-day Wednesday, according to the NWS.

The Columbia area should expect wind speeds of about 40 mph, though there will be some higher gusts, according to the National Weather Service’s local office. Those winds will likely hit the area between 11 a.m. and noon Thursday when Michael is passing directly overhead.

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Unlike Florence, wind speeds during Michael are a bigger concern than rainfall, forecasters said. Current predictions may change, though, depending on how much the hurricane strengthens during the next 24 hours.

The good news Tuesday is that forecasters have increasing confidence that hurricane wind speeds (74 mph and higher) are not expected in the Midlands area. The highest wind gusts reported in the area during Florence included 54 mph (Shaw AFB, Sumter), 43 mph (Newberry County Airport) and 39 mph (Columbia Metropolitan Airport and Fort Jackson).

Falling trees and scattered power outages are expected, Richland County officials said Tuesday.

Because the state is still recovering from Florence, which dumped rain across South Carolina over a period of days, ground saturation is a real concern, according to the NWS. With much of the ground still full of rain from Florence, it may not be able to support some tree root systems, creating a hazard.

The Columbia area can also expect between 3.5 and 4 inches of rain, according to the NWS. During Hurricane Florence, the NWS recorded 4.3 inches of rain at Fort Jackson and about 4 inches across the city.

Weather models showed 3 to 6 inches of rain possible across the eastern Midlands area with locally higher amounts, according to the weather service.

Skies will clear late Thursday night and winds will subside quickly, according to Richland County.

The biggest threat to the area may be the chance of isolated tornadoes. The eastern Midlands will fall on the eastern end of the storm, where the chances for tornadoes are highest, according to the NWS.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration issued Tropical Storm Watches across many South Carolina counties Tuesday morning, including Allendale, Hampton, Dorchester, Beaufort and Charleston counties. Parts of Jasper, Berkeley and Colleton counties were also placed under the watch.

At about 11:15 a.m., a Tropical Storm Watch was issued for Bamberg, Barnwell, Calhoun, Claredon, Lee, Orangeburg and Sumter counties, according to the NOAA.