Last month, the 2017 Atlantic Hurricane season finally came to a close. From June 1 to Nov. 30, South Carolinians were encouraged by SCEMD and other state agencies to be on high alert, especially after the severe storm impacts the state received during the 2015 and 2016 seasons. Now that hurricane season has wrapped up, we called on John Qualiariello, a Columbia-based meteorologist for the National Weather Service, to reflect.
“2017 turned out to be a very active season. We had 16 named storms. 10 of those were hurricanes, and 6 of them actually turned out to be major hurricanes, which are category 3 or higher,” Qualiariello said.
According to Qualiariello, 2017 is the second season in a row to have above normal tropical hurricane activity, both in terms of the total number of named storms and the number of major hurricanes that occurred. 2016 represented fairly similar activity with 15 named storms and 7 hurricanes, including 4 major hurricanes.
The biggest weather-related threat to South Carolina in 2017 was of course Hurricane Irma, one of the season’s fiercest hurricanes, which was a Category 5 storm when it made its initial landfall in Cuba. Ultimately, South Carolina missed the brunt of Irma’s force when the hurricane veered west of its projected path.
“I think South Carolina lucked out—to some degree,” he said. “For a while, it looked like the forecast track of Irma might actually head up toward the South Carolina coast . . . had Irma stayed a little bit farther east, you know, turned a little farther east and come into South Carolina, it would have been pretty devastating for the state. Fortunately for South Carolina, the storm tracked a little farther west than predicted a few days earlier, and because of that, most of the destruction occurred across Florida.”
That’s not to say, however, that South Carolina didn’t receive serious impacts from Irma.
“South Carolina did have some pretty significant impacts,” said Qualiariello, “and I’d say especially given how far Irma tracked away from the area. Considering Irma made landfall down in the Florida Keys and the Southwest part of the state of Florida, we still experienced tropical storm-force winds across most of the state.”
While the Midlands and even the Upstate dealt with power outages resulting from Irma’s winds, it was the S.C. coast that received the greatest impact.
“I think maybe one of the greater impacts that people weren’t anticipating was the storm surge flooding that occurred along the coast, where we saw the inundation along the coast actually be greater in some parts of the central and Southern part of the coast than we experienced back in Matthew last year,” Qualiariello said. This made the third year in a row that the S.C. coast had received severe hurricane-related flooding, following Hurricanes Joaquin and Matthew.
Now that December is well under way, Qualiariello and his colleagues at the National Weather Service have shifted their focus to winter weather concerns. According to Qualiariello, this winter is like to be a warm one in South Carolina, but that doesn’t rule out the possibility for dangerous winter weather conditions.
To learn more about winter weather conditions, you can watch SCEMD’s press conference from Winter Weather Week here.