U.S. Department of Agriculture
A Coast Guard photo taken while flying over Sumter County during the October 2015 floods
The National Weather Service released a 113-page report detailing the historic flooding that occurred across South Carolina last October that left 19 dead and caused almost $1.5 billion in damages.
According to the report (PDF
or see below), many areas in the Lowcountry experienced rainfall amounts equaling one-third the average annual amount in just over four days. This heavy amount of inundation severely taxed the state’s infrastructure, closing down more than 400 roads and bridges and causing 36 dams to fail. The immense storm broke numerous records for the Charleston area, with some areas receiving more than 26 inches of rainfall over the duration of the storm.
Examining the impact of the storm and the response from various agencies, the report recognizes the statewide response and offers a few recommendations on how South Carolina can be better prepared for another catastrophic weather event. According to the National Weather Service, the weather forecast office in Charleston identified the need for more tide gauges to assess coastal flood conditions. Staffing shortages at the weather forecast office in Columbia and the Southeast River Forecast Center were also cited as the cause of added challenges during the storm, but overall agencies are believed to have been well-prepared for the historic flood.
A portion of the report also examines the use of social media by weather offices to disseminate information and condition updates. Looking at user engagement for the Charleston area, most Facebook users on the National Weather Service Charleston page
expressed concerns for their neighbors, urged others to stay safe, and offered support for those in need. Not surprisingly, one commenter took the opportunity to publicly question the flooding and true impact of the heavy rainfall, but according to the report, “These comments were deleted and other users engaged in conversation dispelling this internet troll.”
Assessing the performance of the weather surveillance radars around the state, the Columbia, Greenville-Spartanburg, and Wilmington forecast offices all suffer from radar beam blockages due to nearby obstructions. The report states that these signal blockages resulted in the “degradation” of rain estimates during the flood.
The report also touches on the significant problem of individuals continuing to drive through flooded roadways. Of the 19 deaths caused by flooding during the storm, eight were the result of someone choosing to drive through a flooded roadway. The report recommends working to increase public awareness of the dangers of flooding and improve public understanding of the risks associated with weather events.