Aiken County prepares for tropical storm, threat of tornadoes; schools closed Thursday
Aiken County first responders are prepared for Hurricane Michael, which increased to a Category 4 on Wednesday before striking Florida with winds of 155 miles per hour.
Aiken County Director of Emergency Management Paul Matthews said the Emergency Operations Center would be staffed through Wednesday night into Thursday, and his department would continue to monitor Hurricane Michael.
All Aiken County Public Schools will be closed Thursday in anticipation of tropical storm force winds and rain associated with Hurricane Michael, as well.
The Aiken County Emergency Operations Center is currently at OPCON 1, the highest state of emergency preparedness.
Michael is expected to pass over Aiken County as a tropical storm. The National Weather Service placed Aiken under a tropical storm warning early Wednesday.
“We know that Hurricane Michael is going to mean high winds in parts of the state and will bring the possibility of dangerous flash flooding along with it,” said S.C. Gov. Henry McMaster in a press release. “Team South Carolina is ready, but every South Carolinian needs to prepare to drive safely and listen to local officials’ direction regarding personal preparedness and potential impact to your areas.”
The peak forecast for Aiken calls for winds of 20 to 30 miles per hour with gusts up to 45 miles per hour. Due to potential changes in Hurricane Michael’s size and track, the National Weather Service claims there is potential for stronger winds, with conditions being “somewhat favorable” for tornadoes.
Aiken is under a flash flood watch until Thursday evening. Forecasts predict the county will have 3 to 6 inches of rain with a potential for moderate flooding. The risk for flooding may be higher in some areas that are already saturated from earlier rainfall.
Within three hours of making landfall in Florida, the winds dropped from 155 to 125 mph.
A press release from Aiken County Emergency Management stated shelters were expected to open around 4 p.m. Wednesday at Friendship Baptist Church, Mt. Zion Missionary Baptist Church and Wagener First Baptist Church.
Motorists are asked to call *47 instead of 911 if they become stranded or are involved in minor accidents during the storm.
The Aiken County Public School District sent out a mass notification to parents at noon on Wednesday in advance of the closures.
“The large, quick-moving weather system is expected to pass through our area overnight tonight and continue into the afternoon Thursday,” according to a news release from the School District. ”… School bus transportation is not recommended with winds in excess of 35 mph. As a standard safety precaution, our buses do not transport students when high winds are expected. …
“Should conditions allow, we’re hopeful to resume regular school operations on Friday. The safety of roadways and our school facilities will need to be evaluated after the storm in order to make that determination. Please stay tuned tomorrow for an update and information related to Friday’s schedule. Any change in regular school operations for Friday will be shared by 3 p.m. Thursday.”
USC Aiken and Aiken Technical College classes are canceled for Thursday, but offices will be open.
Fox Creek High School in North Augusta and South Aiken Baptist Christian School will also not hold classes Thursday.
County offices in Aiken will remain open Thursday.
Threat of tornadoes
Officials in South Carolina said they are more concerned about tornadoes than flooding from Hurricane Michael.
The National Weather Service said tornadoes are possible across the Florida Panhandle, southeast Georgia and southern South Carolina through Thursday morning as Michael moves inland.
Beaufort County Emergency Management Division Commander Neil Baxley said the tornadoes can spin up fast with little warning in the rainbands of the weakening hurricane.
South Carolina saw 47 tornadoes in two days in 2004 as Tropical Storm Frances moved north from the Florida Panhandle.
Along with tornadoes, forecasters are warning of flash flooding from heavy rain and trees and power lines knocked down by gusty winds.
Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal said Hurricane Michael is “unlike any storm that we have had in anybody’s memory.”
He said this one will inflict serious damage across central and southern Georgia, and he’s calling on people to protect themselves, their families and anyone who needs assistance.
Additional closings for Thursday Oct. 11
• Senior Life Services
• City of Aiken solid waste collection is suspended
• All elective surgeries and elective procedures as well as outpatient clinics and departments at University Health Care System in Augusta
• SRS will be closed from 8 p.m. Wednesday to 8 p.m. Thursday to non-essential personnel.
• Hitchcock Woods will be closed to the public beginning at sundown Wednesday until further notice.
• Learning on Main Preschool in Warrenville; it is expected to reopen Friday
• Best Friend Express and Pony Express will not be operating; normal operations are expected to resume on Friday
For periodic updates on Hurricane Michael, check nhc.noaa.com.
For power outages check aikenco-op.org/outage-information/