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Idalia leaves the Lowcountry feeling lucky and with a near record high tide

Charleston Harbor spills over battery wall at White Point Gardens at near record 9'23' high tide as Idalia arrives in Charleston downgraded to a tropical storm. August 30, 2023.
John Vinson
The Charleston Harbor at a near record high tide of 9.23 feet spills over the battery wall at White Point Gardens in Charleston as Idalia arrives as a downgraded tropical storm. August 30, 2023.

Despite a more than 9 foot, near-record high tide, the Lowcountry escaped Hurricane Idalia relatively unscathed.

It’s not the usual way the Lowcountry stares down a hurricane. Tidal attacks typically come from the Atlantic Ocean not by way of inland Georgia. And the gravitational pull of an impending super blue moon certainly left the coast vulnerable.

But that’s how South Carolina’s shoreside communities squared off against Hurricane Idalia Wednesday night and somehow came out relatively unscathed.

“We’re really blessed,” said Charleston Mayor John Tecklenburg. “We really dodged a bullet.”

As night fell, Idalia arrived to already swelling seas in the Charleston Harbor. The tide eventually reached 9.23 feet, the city’s fifth highest in its more than 100 years of record keeping. The record holder is Hurricane Hugo.

The rushing water lapped over the battery wall at White Point Gardens in Charleston, filling city streets and swamping neighborhoods. Charleston police say they responded to 22 calls from people who needed to be rescued, trapped in their cars by rising water. Fortunately, no one was seriously injured.

Outside the city, tornadoes popped up quickly. Local television meteorologists left their hurricane spaghetti models to issue tornado warnings urging people to take cover. But those traveling local roadways had no idea. A motorist on U.S. Highway 52 in Goose Creek captured video of a vehicle picked up and tossed in the air. The two people inside are said to have suffered minor injuries.

Beaches all along the coast took a beating from Idalia as the storm surge breeched dunes and flooded island roads. Wave after pounding wave lashed out against lofted, beachfront homes.

But it could have been worse, much worse. Idalia’s path shifted west, and the once powerful hurricane was downgraded to a tropical storm before it hit South Carolina, sparing the area heavier rain and stronger winds.

Terry Bryan grew up in the Old Village of Mount Pleasant. He’s seen his share hurricanes and he’s worried. Storms are intensifying more quickly. There have been too many close calls.

“At some point, our luck will run out. I hope people are preparing.”

Victoria Hansen is our Lowcountry connection covering the Charleston community, a city she knows well. She grew up in newspaper newsrooms and has worked as a broadcast journalist for more than 20 years. Her first reporting job brought her to Charleston where she covered local and national stories like the Susan Smith murder trial and the arrival of the Citadel’s first female cadet.