South Carolina

Will Hurricane Dorian join these 6 memorable SC storms from the past 30 years

Living in South Carolina means facing the threat of hurricanes and tropical weather.

Almost every year, the state is warned about looming tropical systems that form off the African coast and stream across the Atlantic Ocean toward the southeastern United States.

Often these storms never make land, but sometimes they do — with devastating and deadly force. And even when they don’t make landfall, the high winds and heavy rains from an ocean storm can stretch for miles.

With Hurricane Dorian looming, here is a list of some of the most memorable storms to hit or brush by South Carolina in the past three decades.

Hurricane Hugo, September 1989

Considered by many to be the worst hurricane in modern South Carolina history.

The storm leveled parts of the Charleston area, as well as the southern Grand Strand, before cutting through the center of South Carolina, smacking the Columbia and Sumter areas, and blasting Charlotte.

Hugo caused more than $7 billion in damage to the U.S. mainland. Unlike many hurricanes that bounce up the coast from Florida, Hugo roared in directly from offshore and smashed South Carolina with full force around midnight Sept. 21-22.

At one point, winds were reported at 120 mph in South Carolina.

Hurricane Floyd, September 1999

Remembered for the soaking rains that flooded the Carolinas.

Floyd landed in North Carolina, but excessive rain associated with the hurricane caused rivers that flow to South Carolina to rise dramatically days later.

Inland communities near Myrtle Beach, including Conway, flooded as the Waccamaw River spilled its banks. Thousands of people were forced from their homes and were unable to return for weeks.

The storm caused $3 billion to $6 billion in damage to the East Coast, mostly from flooding. In addition to flooding issues, residents evacuating the Grand Strand sat for up to 20 hours in traffic as roadways clogged.

Hurricane Bonnie, August 1998

The storm scared the daylights out folks in the Myrtle Beach area before making landfall near Wilmington, North Carolina.

While the eye didn’t hit South Carolina, Bonnie was close enough to cause beach erosion and an estimated $30 million in damage at flood-prone North Myrtle Beach, not far from the North Carolina border. Bonnie carried winds of 115 mph at one point.

Hurricane Charley, August 2004

The storm gave South Carolina fits because it hit twice.

After blasting Florida, Charley moved back over the Atlantic and landed at Cape Romain. It then went out to sea, only to hit again at North Myrtle Beach. Damage was not extensive, although it killed as many as 8,000 young sea turtles as it destroyed nests.

Hurricane Joaquin and the 1,000-year storm, October 2015

Two storms contributed to historic flooding in the Columbia area and in the Lowcountry from Charleston to rural Williamsburg County.

A heavy rain system, which scientists at N.C. State University said was held in place by Hurricane Joaquin, dumped about two feet of rain on the Columbia area the weekend of Oct. 3, 2015. In one 24-hour stretch, more than 16 inches fell.

Creeks in the Gills Creek watershed overflowed, flooded homes, turned streets into rivers and drove people to high ground. Poorly regulated dams broke, adding to the misery.

The storm caused more than $2 billion in damage, according to the S.C. Emergency Management Division. Nine people in the Columbia area drowned.

Hurricane Florence, September 2018

Florence made landfall near the South Carolina-North Carolina line, with heavy rain swelling rivers on both sides of the border and causing extensive flooding through the Pee Dee. Fifty-nine people were killed, many from being trapped in their cars or in accidents fleeing the storm. The storm cost at least $600 million in damage.


What about Hurricanes Matthew 2016 and Irma 2017?

Both Hurricanes Matthew in 2016 and Irma in 2017 took greater tolls on other states, but their effects in South Carolina will be hard to forget.

Matthew grazed the South Carolina coast, causing flooding and knocking down trees along much of the coast. Small inland towns flooded in eastern South Carolina as rivers rose. High seas coated Grand Strand communities with mud. Hilton Head Island, which had for years avoided major hurricane damage, was swamped. Matthew also caused more dams to break in eastern South Carolina, a year after catastrophic flooding from the 1,000 year storm.

Hurricane Irma actually hit the U.S. coast hundreds of miles away, but the storm was so wide that flooding and winds could be felt on the South Carolina coast. High seas from the storm and an unusually high tide swamped the Charleston peninsula, including sections of the historic Battery. Irma was one of the costliest U.S. hurricanes, causing an estimated $50 billion nationally.

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Sammy Fretwell has covered the environment for more than 20 years at The State. He writes about an array of environmental subjects, including nature, climate change, energy, state environmental policy, nuclear waste and coastal development. Fretwell is a University of South Carolina graduate who grew up in Anderson County. Reach him at 803 771 8537.
Jeff Wilkinson has worked for The State for both too long and not long enough. He’s covered politics, city government, history, business, the military, marijuana and the Iraq War. Jeff knows the weird, wonderful and untold secrets of South Carolina. Buy him a shot and he’ll tell you all about them.