Hurricane Michael is expected to barrel through South Carolina on Thursday as a tropical storm, bringing with it high winds, heavy rain and a heightened chance of tornadoes.
The storm made landfall Wednesday afternoon in Panama City, Fla., as a Category 4 hurricane, prompting the closure of schools across the Palmetto State, including Richland and Lexington counties and the University of South Carolina.
A tropical storm warning (winds 39 to 73 mph) and a flash flood watch are in effect for the Midlands.
Although Michael was a strong Category 4 storm when it made landfall in Florida, it’s expected to pass through South Carolina as a tropical storm and continue weakening as it moves across the state, said Mike Proud, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Columbia.
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Columbia-area residents can expect to start feeling the wind effects around 4 a.m. Thursday, Proud said. Sustained winds will be around 30 mph with regular gusts of 40 or 45 mph. Higher occasional gusts of up to 50 mph are possible.
As the storm rolls through and heads northeast, it’s going to accelerate, creating a risk for tornadoes, Proud said. The area of the greatest risk will be along the corridor from Augusta to Columbia to Cheraw, and everything east of that will be at a slightly higher risk, Proud said.
Many Midlands counties were under a slight or enhanced risk for tornadoes as of Wednesday afternoon.
“They will be expecting some tornado watches to go up late tonight into Thursday morning in advance of that threat,” Proud said Wednesday, referring to the storm prediction center.
Forecasters are predicting 4 to 6 inches of rain with locally higher amounts, but wind continues to be the primary concern for weather and emergency officials.
Winds will die down between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. Thursday, which Proud said will be the eye of the storm moving through. The storm is expected to move through the area quickly, and winds should begin tapering off around 8 p.m. Thursday, Proud said.
“We’ll have some high winds through the morning, a little break, and then some high winds through the afternoon into the evening hours,” he said.
Gov. Henry McMaster announced Wednesday that South Carolina remains in a state of emergency due to flooding from Hurricane Florence and a potential emergency from Michael.
“This will not be a repeat of what we saw in Florence,” the governor said during an afternoon news conference. “It will not be like Hugo. It will be high winds and a good bit of water.”
Power companies across the Palmetto State were mobilizing Wednesday and bracing for outages from a hit by Michael. The Palmetto region of the American Red Cross opened 12 shelters as of Wednesday afternoon, including Kilbourne Park Baptist Church in Columbia, Sumter County Recreation Center in Sumter and Fairfield Magnet in Winnsboro.
Hurricane Florence impacted the state in September but left the Midlands largely unscathed. 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).