Weather News

Hugo could spawn tornadoes, gales, heavy rain in Midlands

National Weather Service

More from the series

Hurricane Hugo coverage from The State: Sept. 17 - Sept. 24, 1989

Read more stories from The State’s original reporting of Hurricane Hugo in 1989. From Hugo’s collision with the Caribbean islands and Puerto Rico to its catastrophic landfall near Charleston, The State kept readers up-to-date with vital news about the event that turned into the worst storm South Carolina has ever seen.

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This story first appeared in The State on September 21, 1989.

Tornadoes, flooding and hail may be Hurricane Hugo’s greeting card to the Midlands if it slams into the South Carolina coast Friday.

“Taking the worst-case scenario, we could have gusts of wind up to 50 to 60 mph for two to three hours and probably at least 6 inches of rainfall,” Milt Brown, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service, said Wednesday. “And anytime you have a hurricane, there is a chance it will spawn tornadoes.”

The hurricane would have to hit near Charleston or Savannah for the Midlands to feel much of Hugo’s force. “We will probably experience gusts of wind that are 50 percent of whatever the hurricane’s winds are,” he said. “Since it seems to be holding at about 105 mph, we would see winds that were about 50 mph here.”

He said the wind damage still wouldn’t be as severe as damage caused by a June 16 thunderstorm, with winds that were clocked between 75 and 85 mph, he said.

Flooding may occur in low-lying areas, and small streams and some rivers may spill over their banks. Tornadoes also are a possibility, especially since they have been known to evolve from the western edge of a hurricane’s center.

Historically, the Five Points area, along with Olympia Avenue, Assembly Street, Bluff Road and sections of South Beltline Boulevard have flooded in Columbia.

In Lexington County, the St. Andrews and Seven Oaks neighborhoods tend to flood heavily, along with certain Cayce neighborhoods and the area behind the Lexington Medical Center, said Art Brooks, the Lexington County Public Works director.

New Friarsgate, Coldstream, Riverland Park and Coatsworth subdivisions in Irmo also consistently have flooding problems.

The Adjutant General’s Emergency Preparedness Division suggests that Midlands residents stay tuned to television and radio announcements of storm weather, said Brian Ellison, the division’s public information officer.

“Do anything you would normally do to prepare for a heavy storm. If you have large picture windows, you might want to think about plyboarding them or at least taping them.”

If tornadoes form, residents need to go to the central part of the house and crawl under heavy furniture if they don’t have a basement. “If you live in a mobile home, get out of it. If you’re in your car and you see a tornado, get out of the car and go to a low-lying ditch -- but not a drainage ditch.”

He told how residents may be able to detect tornadoes: “Look for circular motions in the clouds, and always watch very dark clouds. . . . This is very, very serious and if people are asked to evacuate, they need to do so immediately.”

Mark Chelluk, the supervisor of the lumber department at Lowe’s of Columbia on Two Notch Road, said some customers bought plywood Wednesday for their homes at the beach.

“People this close are not concerned yet, but if it does come closer, we’ll sell a lot of plywood and generators, in case of a blackout,” he said.

In the meantime, South Carolina Electric & Gas is making sure all its stockrooms are filled with supplies needed to repair electric lines, spokesman Brian Duncan said.

Meteorologist Brown said the last time the Midlands was ravaged by a hurricane was 30 years ago.

Hurricane Gracie swept through the state Sept. 29, 1959, and its center passed about 10 miles west of Columbia, according to “South Carolina Hurricanes,” by State Climatologist John C. Purvis. The force of Gracie’s winds damaged the State House’s copper dome so badly, architects debated whether it was repairable.