Hurricane Florence shifts toward South Carolina, Aiken County expected to see wind, flooding
Hurricane Florence shifted south on Wednesday toward South Carolina. After striking the Carolina coast, it could potentially track through the Midlands as it weakens, according to NOAA.
South Carolina officials warned in a press conference on Wednesday afternoon that strong winds may be expected in areas far from the coast. The potential track, which was updated at 5 p.m. on Wednesday, could bring rainfall and windy conditions to the CSRA.
According to the National Weather Service, tropical storm conditions could be possible in Aiken on Saturday and Sunday.
Although 2-6 inches of rain are expected in the CSRA, this amount could vary depending on Florence’s track. Other parts of the state could see over 10 inches of rain.
Aiken County schools are expected to operate on a regular schedule Thursday.
“We are actively working alongside Emergency Management Officials to monitor projections and make the best possible decisions regarding school operations grounded in safety and consideration for all students, employees and families,” according to a Wednesday afternoon statement from the Aiken County Public School District. “Currently, our schools are operating on a regular schedule. As our discussions continue with Emergency Management and decisions are made, parents/guardians and employees will be updated immediately.”
Additionally, USC Aiken announced it will conduct all classes and activities as scheduled on Thursday, except for the men’s soccer game against Barton originally scheduled for Wednesday evening, which has been canceled.
Florence has devastating flood potential
The hurricane’s track pattern is still relatively unpredictable and could continue to shift further north or south as it draws closer to the coast.
As of Wednesday evening, Florence has dropped to a Category 3 hurricane with wind speeds of 120 miles per hour, but meteorologists warn it could jump in strength again.
Given that Florence is a slow-moving storm, it is expected to bring a long period of damaging winds and flooding in the Northwestern part of South Carolina.
Significant river flooding can also be expected, especially in areas of the Peedee Basin, according to Warning Coordination Meteorologist John Quagliariello.
During a 2:30 p.m. press conference Wednesday, S.C. Gov. Henry McMaster announced that no additional evacuations would be ordered at this time, but warned people in evacuation zones to leave while they can.
“Once those high winds get here … it will be very difficult, if not impossible, for anyone to come rescue you if you are in one of those zones,” McMaster said.
While Florence is bringing strong winds, the flooding may be the most devastating part of this hurricane.
“This hurricane is bringing rain and water that we have not seen before in hurricanes,” McMaster said. ”… Be on the lookout for major flooding.”
McMaster said flood conditions in parts of the state could be worse than the thousand-year flood of 2015.
Wave heights as high as 83 feet have been reported under parts of the hurricane Wednesday morning by the National Hurricane Center.
Alexander Gerst, an astronaut onboard the International Space Station, tweeted that Hurricane Florence was “so enormous” that a photo of it could only be captured with a super-wide angle lens from the ISS, despite the station already being nearly 250 miles above the eye of the storm.
“Get prepared on the East Coast, this is a no-kidding nightmare coming for you,” Gerst tweeted.
McMaster called the hurricane “deadly” and “unpredictable” in a press conference Tuesday, and said state officials would remain vigilant in case of any changes.
As of NOAA’s Wednesday update, South Carolina is now the only state entirely engulfed in Florence’s 4-5 day potential track, though North Carolina is still expected to receive the worst of the damage.
Aiken County officials prep for storm
The Aiken Department of Public Safety is prepping for a “multi-day heavy rain, high-wind event,” said Lt. Jake Mahoney, with Aiken Public Safety.
Mahoney said the agency is pre-staging barricades at different locations across the city that are prone to flooding when there is heavy rainfall, such as Richland Avenue and Beaufort Street.
“We want to pre-stage these things so they can be set up quickly and drivers can be detoured or rerouted,” Mahoney said.
Aiken Public Safety will also have additional dispatchers and firefighters on duty for the next few days and through the weekend.
North Augusta City Administrator Todd Glover said the city has a liaison at the Aiken County Emergency Operations Center, and staff is participating in the updates that are given every day by the National Weather Service.
He said the city is making sure it has fuel available and all equipment is in working order.
Regarding flooding, Glover said there are low-lying areas that have flooded before, but the amount of rain and the area it hits would affect where flooding may happen.
“Expect the best, but be prepared for the worst,” Glover said, saying residents should be prepared by having their vehicles fueled up and having some stores of food.
Potential impacts on Aiken dams
Aiken County Administrator Clay Killian said Wednesday that any downpours caused by Hurricane Florence shouldn’t cause a problem at the site of the Langley Pond Dam project near Warrenville.
“We had to develop an emergency operations plan for the dam while it was under construction,” he said. “Part of it was to deal with heavy rainfall events, obviously, and Crowder Construction Co. (the contractor for the project) is already on top of that. The water level behind the cofferdam has been lowered, and it (the cofferdam) can be removed, if necessary, to let it (the water) flow through without causing any damage upstream, downstream or to work that has been done.”
Aiken County’s other preparations for the storm have included contacting Southern Disaster Recovery.
“We have a contract with that company, and we can invoke it if we have a debris event,” Killian said. “They will come and help us do the initial push to clear the roads and pick up stuff just like they did during the ice storm (in 2014). We also have topped off all of our fuel supplies and made sure that our equipment is ready if we have to repair roads or clear debris.”
Bill Birdwell, an official spokesman for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, said the New Savannah River Bluff Lock and Dam has no flood risk capability and never has, but said they can control how much is released from the J. Strom Thurmond Dam, which could have an impact on downstream flows and flooding.
Regarding the water level of the river at the lock and dam, Birdwell said the Corps of Engineers can raise and lower the gates, but the only reason that would be done is to prevent damage to the gates.
Staff writers Lindsey Hodges, Dede Biles and Tripp Girardeau contributed to this article.