Columbia-area residents should not underestimate the potential impacts of Hurricane Michael, local officials warned Wednesday afternoon, hours before the storm was forecast to move into the area.
People could be tempted to come down with “hurricane fatigue” after the much-feared Hurricane Florence spared the Midlands several weeks ago, Mayor Steve Benjamin said. But Hurricane Michael should be taken seriously, he said.
“We’re still gravely concerned,” Benjamin said. “This is a massive storm. ... The Midlands was particularly fortunate with Hurricane Florence. We don’t want people believing this is a non-event. This is a big deal, and we will prepare accordingly.”
Hurricane Michael could hit parts of South Carolina, including the Columbia area, harder than Hurricane Florence in some ways, forecasters say.
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Tropical storm-force winds are the biggest concern for the South Carolina Midlands on Thursday. Four to 6 inches of rain also could fall in the area.
The storm made landfall as a Category 4 hurricane Wednesday afternoon along the Florida panhandle. It is expected to weaken to a tropical storm before it reaches South Carolina.
A tropical storm warning went into effect for the Columbia area just after 5 a.m. Wednesday. Richland and Lexington county public schools all announced Wednesday afternoon that they will be closed Thursday.
Columbia officials were preparing Wednesday by clearing storm drains and staging barriers in flood-prone areas, including intersections in Five Points and at Whaley and Main streets.
Trash pickup in the city will be suspended Thursday and resume Friday.
This is not expected to be the type of storm that would have serious impacts on the city’s river levels and canal, officials said Wednesday.
Police and fire officials plan to have additional staff on call during the storm.
With the storm’s expected high winds, officials warned that downed trees and power lines would be likely. People who see downed tree limbs in the streets should not immediately try to remove them, as they could be attached to live power lines, said Robert Anderson, the city’s public works director.
Instead, residents should call the city’s non-emergency hotline at (803) 545-3300 to report downed trees and other non-emergency issues. In cases of emergency, always call 911.
Columbia-area residents can expect to start feeling the storm’s wind effects around 4 a.m. Thursday, said Mike Proud, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Columbia. Sustained winds will be around 30 mph with regular gusts of 40 or 45 mph, Proud said. Higher occasional gusts of up to 50 mph are possible.
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.
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.
“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.
Staff writer Teddy Kulmala contributed reporting.