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Severe Weather and Flood Safety Week: Flooding in South Carolina

Thursday is the fifth day of South Carolina’s Severe Weather and Flood Safety Week. Stay up to date on weather conditions by following the South Carolina Emergency Management Division, the National Weather Service, SCETV and South Carolina Public Radio.

South Carolina’s low-lying nature and subtropical climate makes it vulnerable to flooding. Flooding can take many forms, including flash flooding, river flooding, tropical system flooding and coastal flooding. Depending on where you live, these hazards may have different effects.

Frank Strait, Severe Weather Liaison at the South Carolina State Climatology Office, said flash flooding is a particular concern in the Upstate region.

“The rivers rise quickly, but tend to fall quickly,” he said.

River flooding occurs when the flow of rainwater is greater than the capacities of the natural drainage system. The Great Pacolet Flood of 1903 was caused by heavy rains that caused the river to rise as much as 40 feet. It’s estimate at least 65 people died, with some estimates closer to 80.

The Midlands and the Lowcountry can also experience flash flooding, but Strait said the Lowcountry typically experiences flooding in “slow-motion,” where rivers are slow to flood, but also slow to drain.

Coastal areas of South Carolina are also very vulnerable to flooding from tropical systems. In 2016, Hurricane Matthew brought both extensive storm surge damage and excessive rainfall, leading to record river flooding. According to the National Weather Service, the Waccamaw River crested at almost 17 feet in Horry County. Nearby Marion County saw more than 14 inches of excess rainfall, and Hilton Head Island and Edisto Island in the Lowcounty saw more than 16 inches.

Strait said one of the first things you can do to protect yourself against flooding is understanding your own flood risk.

“If you’re displaced by a flood, you could be displaced for a long time,” he said.

First, find out if you live in a flood zone by using FEMA’s Flood Map Service Center. According to the National Flood Insurance Program, Moderate- to low-risk flood zones are designated with the letters B, C and X. The risk of flooding in these areas are reduced, but still exist. High-risk areas begin with letters A or V on FEMA maps. If you are buying property in a high-risk zone with a federally backed mortgage, you will be required to purchase flood insurance.

Even if it’s not required, Strait said you may want to consider flood insurance for your property. Homeowners and rental insurance do not typically cover flood damage.

If renting, ask your landlord or neighbors about historical flooding in the area before you move in.

Most people’s first mistake is underestimating their risk.

“Suppose you live close to a river, and you’re told your home will only flood during a 100-year flood,” he said, “So there’s actually a 1% chance of that flood happening every year. Some areas have experienced several ‘100-year floods’ in the last few years.”

Tomorrow, we’ll learn about what to do should that flood arrive at your doorstep.