South Carolina environmental officials are warning dam owners to take extra precautions amid reports that Hurricane Hermine is strengthening as it approaches Florida’s coast. National Hurricane Center forecast models say the storm is likely to pass across eastern South Carolina on Friday afternoon and evening, but will likely weaken back into a tropical storm by then.
The state Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC), mindful of forecasts that Hermine could bring 4-8 inches of rain to the Midlands and Lowcountry, is warning dam operators to ensure their water levels are safe and unobstructed.
“We’re encouraging them to monitor the conditions of their dams,” DHEC spokesman Robert Yanity told South Carolina Radio Network. “And encouraging them to make sure their spillways are clear and doing what they need to do to make sure our dams are safe.”
South Carolina’s Emergency Management Division said it plans to open the state’s Emergency Operations Center in Lexington County on Friday morning. SCEMD on Thursday upgraded its operating condition to Level 4, up one from its lowest level, in anticipation of the storm. Spokesman Joe Farmer said the fears about Hermine are less about wind damage and more potential flooding or power issues.
“We’re looking forward, being prepared here. And we’re asking people to do that with us,” he said. “We want folks to be prepared, to have plans and food and water on hand.”
The state Department of Transportation is trying to get ahead of the storm as much as possible, clearing out storm drains and culverts in areas that historically flood during severe storms. SCDOT officials hope their prep work now will reduce flooding later. Spokesman Pete Poore said crews in the Midlands and Lowcountry will begin operating on long half-day shifts at midnight Friday so they can be on standby.
“Our crews will start on 12-hour shifts,” he said. “Because we’re anticipating, no matter the arrival time for the tropical storm… it’s always preceded by wind and rain.”
National Hurricane Center models predict Hermine will travel across north Florida early Friday morning, before traversing across eastern Georgia around mid-morning. It is expected to reach South Carolina’s border in the Savannah region around 1 p.m. Friday. The forecasts predict it will then follow the coastline up into the Grand Strand region before crossing into North Carolina around midnight Saturday.
The heaviest rain is expected in the Midlands, but Horry County officials warn the storm could be passing through the region around high tide on Friday night. And some flooding is still expected in low-lying areas of the Lowcountry, as well.
Charleston County Emergency Management operations chief Cathy Haynes urged residents to use common sense while driving and stay away from floodwaters. “Our emergency services agencies that we depend on daily for our safety are not going to be available in the event of a major disaster such as this,” she told reporters. “Because they have been impacted, just like the community has been impacted. So therefore you may not get help right away.”
Most of Charleston’s public facilities, including schools, colleges, and government offices are closing in anticipation of the storm and potential flooding on the peninsula. The region’s national parks and other tourism spots are also closed on Friday.
Jared Rogers-Martin contributed to this report