Florence is closing in on the Midlands.
Beginning Saturday morning, Richland and Lexington County residents can expect the storm to deliver heavier rain and faster wind speeds, said Frank Alsheimer, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service.
“We’ve already had winds blowing down trees as far west as Lexington County...and we expect that to continue into tomorrow,” Alsheimer said. “Power outages are likely.”
The biggest threat to the Midlands remains flooding. Though Florence — now a tropical storm — is expected to deliver two to three inches of rain by the end of Saturday, a slight shift in the storm could increase that to five inches of rain or more.
“Just a slight shift in the track can make a huge difference,” Alsheimer said.
Although Hurricane Florence has been downgraded to a tropical storm as it moved Friday across South Carolina, that does not lessen the impact it can have on Columbia and the Midlands.
Florence has placed most Midlands counties under a storm watch or warning, including Richland and Lexington counties, which were under a tropical storm warning, according to NWS Columbia.
A flash flood watch was issued for Richland and Lexington counties, among many others in the area.
With maximum winds recorded at 65 mph at 11 p.m. Friday night, Florence was roughly 18 miles northwest of Myrtle Beach, per NWS Columbia. It is expect to move slowly in a southwest direction overnight.
The storm is expected to inflict tropical storm force winds (35 to 45 mph with gusts up to 55 mph) in the Midlands, NWS Columbia reported.
“The strong wind gusts may down trees and power lines. The heavy rainfall will increase the risk of trees uprooting and toppling,” according to a NWS Columbia news release. “The strong winds will also blow around any loose objects, lawn furniture and trash cans.”
The highest wind gust in the Midlands as of early Friday evening was 51 mph at Shaw Air Force Base in Sumter. A 32 mph gust was recorded at Columbia Metropolitan Airport.
The winds are already causing problems.
Several roads in Lexington County were closed because of downed trees and utility lines, the county reported. They included Corley Mill Road, Old Chapin Road, Catawba Trail and Wyatt Way.
SCE&G reported more than 3,000 customers across South Carolina were without power as of 8 p.m. Many were located in the Midlands, as 716 of the outages were reported in Lexington County, and 210 more in Richland County.
Isolated tornadoes will be possible in the northern Midlands and Pee Dee area, which are expected to get between 8-15 inches of rain, according to NWS Columbia.
Winds are forecast to diminish on Sunday, but the threats caused by heavy rainfall and flooding will still be present.
“The main life-threatening risk is heavy rain and associated flooding,” according to a Weather Service statement. “Storm rainfall totals of 3 to 8 inches may occur across the central Midlands.”
The heavy rainfall will “produce flash flooding and river flooding across the Midlands,” and even though weather conditions are expected to improve Monday, “flooding on the area rivers will increase as the runoff from heavy rains moves through the river basins,” per NWS Columbia.
S.C. Emergency Management spokesman Derrec Becker warned that water levels may mimic the historic 1,-000-year flood that hit Columbia a few years ago.
“It’s looking more like 2015,” Becker said. “Don’t let the category of the storm fool you.”
SCEMD is preparing to make water rescues, Becker said. Rescue teams are coming to the Palmetto State from all over the country, including Florida and Ohio.
If your home flooded before, Becker warned it would likely flood again.
NWS Columbia reported that there is the possibility for more changes in the track and intensity in the coming days.
Tropical Storm Warning
A tropical storm warning is in now effect for Chesterfield, Lee, Sumter, Clarendon, Calhoun, Orangeburg, Lancaster, Kershaw, Fairfield, Richland, and Lexington counties, according to NWS Columbia.
Flash Flood Warning
NWS Columbia reported a flash flood watch is in effect for Lancaster, Chesterfield, Newberry, Fairfield, Kershaw, Saluda, Lexington, Richland, Lee, Sumter, Orangeburg, Calhoun, and Clarendon Counties.