Florence County braces for ‘tropical storm’ event; coast braces for ‘historic’ event

September 12, 2018

A Florence County Emergency Management Division predictive weather program shows Hurricane Florence as it would be on Sept. 13 based on the predicted track as of Tuesday morning.

FLORENCE, S.C. — Hurricane Florence has the potential to be a historic event if worst-case scenarios play out, but for the Pee Dee a northward track in the storm is good news and may mean more like a tropical storm for residents.

“I am not telling you we have nothing to worry about, said Dusty Owens, Florence County Emergency Management Division director, who gave a briefing on the storm Tuesday afternoon. “What is important for citizens to understand, if they watch a lot of the Weather Channel and things like that, they may be of the opinion that we’re going to have this massive hurricane, a category 3 or 4 storm crashing down on Florence County. Based on this track from the National Weather Service, that is not the case. We’ll have something for us more similar to a tropical storm for Florence County.”

Owens stressed that storms are unpredictable, but based on the track that had the center of the cone of uncertainty passing over Jacksonville, N.C., Florence County would have only a 10 percent chance of experiencing hurricane force winds and could expect 2-3 inches of rain over the duration of the storm.

“The storm track has shifted, very slightly, to the northeast, which is beneficial to us. The projected landfall is moving further into North Carolina and away from our coastal area,” Owens said.

There will still be power outages and the threat of floods following the storm.

“If we get a heavy rainfall in North Carolina that water is going to come downstream and this could become a flood event for us,” Owens said. “A lot of that rain will end up in stream beds heading toward South Carolina.”

Rainfall in eastern North Carolina would drain into the Pee Dee River basin as well as toward the Little Pee Dee and Lumber Rivers. Rainfall around Winston-Salem would drain, ultimately, into the Pee Dee River basin and rainfall around Charlotte would drain ultimately into the Lynches River.

“Remember, be flexible. That track, if it shifts further to the south, basically all of this is out of the window. It will be a lot worse than what I am showing you here,” Owens said.

Florence County shelters

Florence County will open four shelters to take both local and coastal evacuees — Wilson, South Florence, Lake City and Timmonsville high schools. The shelters opened at 4 p.m.

The schools in 26 counties along the coast were ordered closed by Gov. Henry McMaster so they could shelter coastal evacuees, Owens said.

Florence County is coordinating with Pee Dee Regional Transportation Authority to provide bus pickup at the system’s regularly scheduled stops for people who need transportation to a shelter, Owens said. That service will start at 8 a.m. Thursday and continue through Thursday evening until weather conditions dictate.

Hannah-Pamplico Elementary/Middle School is also a designated shelter but will not be opened initially because of a weater line break, Owens said. If a test of the water from the system proves it safe to drink then the school could be opened if necessary, Owens said. Those test results, according to a city official on the phone for the briefing, the results of those tests will be ready around noon Wednesday.

A check of SCDOT traffic cams Wednesday at 3:30 p.m. showed light flow on U.S. 501 through Aynor, which is part of the lane-reversal plan to speed evacuation from the Grand Strand.

Impact on Pee Dee businesses and events

As Hurricane Florence approached schools closed, events were canceled and businesses adjusted.

Florence Regional Airport announced it would close at 11:30 p.m. Wednesday and reopen at 4:30 a.m. Saturday.

The Greater Pee Dee State Fair at the Florence Center will end at the close of business Tuesday. It had been scheduled to run through Sept. 16.

“Elective procedures such as surgery and imaging are canceled for this Thursday and Friday, September 13 and 14. We will reschedule elective procedures as soon as possible after the storm,” according to Carolinas Hospita.

Carolinas Medical Alliance practices in Florence, Marion, Pamplico, Lake City and Kingstree planned to close Thursday and Friday as well. Appointments will be rescheduled.

Prep football games scheduled for Friday night were either canceled or postponed until next week.

State officials, starting Wednesday, have implemented a statewide burn ban ahead of the storm as well.

Coastal communities brace for the worst

“This is a potential historic event if the worst-case scenario does unfold like it can here,” Steven Pfaff, warning coordination meteorologist with the National Weather Service office in Wilmington, N.C., said on a conference call Tuesday morning.

Any storm surge above three feet is considered life threatening, Pfaff said.

The storm surge doesn’t account for the additional height of unusually high breakers driven in by the storm, Pfaff said.

“This is why we’ve been highlighting this as potentially life threatening. This is why we’ve been highlighting this as potentially life threatening. There will potentially be water in places that typically don’t see water and at some significant depth as well,” Pfaff said.

The storm surge will threaten drinking water supplies to communities along the coast, structures on barrier islands, coastal roads and residents along any body of water that is affected to tidal conditions, according to a briefing issued on the storm.

“The water is just going to pile in and it’s going to pile in to those creeks as well,” Pfaff said.

“We haven’t been challenged by something of this magnitude, with these elements, probably since Fran in 1996 and similarly Hugo in the late ’80s when it impacted South Carolina,” Pfaff said.

Pfaff said public safety officials were working to get residents out of the paths of the wind and surge while not driving them into inland areas that were in danger of flooding.

Evacuees could also find themselves challenged to immediately return to their communities if the storm damages roads and bridges as it blows through, Pfaff said.

Reid Hawkins, chief science officer for the Wilmington National Weather Service office, said Tuesday night that a high pressure ridge would likely interfere with the storm moving out of the area and drive it almost due west into North Carolina. The 5:30 p.m. projected path of the storm has it over Asheville, N.C., Sunday afternoon.

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