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Weather and Climate
The warm, steamy Lowcountry gets most of its rainfall, and it gets a lot of rainfall, from storms moving inland from the Atlantic Ocean, the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea. Summers are hot; temperatures can soar past 90 degrees, and high humidity turns the thermostat up from “hot” to “swelter.” In Charleston, from June through August the average summer rainfall is nearly 17 inches, mostly from thunderstorms, though summer through early fall are also tropical storm and hurricane season. Winters are mild, with the temperature rarely dipping below 30 degrees. The warm season extends from late May to late September, with daily highs in the 80s. The cold season is from December to February, when the high rarely climbs above 60 degrees. The coldest days tend to be in early January. Snow is rare.
Every second counts in a disaster so planning and preparation can be lifesavers.
The South Carolina Emergency Management Division, part of the Adjutant General’s Office, is the state’s coordinating agency responsible for the statewide emergency management program. Its mission is to develop, coordinate and lead preparation for, response to, and recovery from emergencies and disasters to save lives and minimize suffering and property loss. The division gives residents, communities, public safety professionals, businesses and schools valuable information and resources regarding a variety of emergency scenarios. The website provides information on creating an emergency plan and emergency kit, pet preparedness and disaster preparedness for children. For more information about local disaster preparedness, visit www.scemd.org.
Another great resource for natural disaster and severe weather information is the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website at www.cdc.gov/disasters. Here you can find information on how to prepare for various weather emergencies.
The following are considered significant hazards in South Carolina.
Earthquakes are common in South Carolina — 10 to 15 occur every year thanks to the Middleton Place-Summerville Seismic Zone, but most are so slight people don’t notice them. However, there have been two big ones: the 1886 Charleston-Summerville earthquake and another in Union County in 1913. The former did more damage than any other earthquake in the eastern U.S., and a 2001 study confirmed that the state remains vulnerable to earthquake activity. An earthquake gives no warning, but there are things you can do in advance to help get you, your family and your property through it. Go to www.scemd.org/prepare/types-of-disasters/earthquakes to find out how.
Extreme Heat and Sun Exposure
Some exposure to sunlight is good, even healthy, but too much can be dangerous. Broad-spectrum ultraviolet radiation, listed as a known carcinogen by the National Institute of Environmental Health Science, can cause blistering sunburns as well as long-term problems like skin cancer, cataracts and immune system suppression. Overexposure also causes wrinkling and premature aging of the skin.
Cloud cover reduces UV levels, but not completely. Depending on cloud cover thickness, you can still burn on a chilly, overcast day, so be prepared with sunglasses, sunscreen, long-sleeved garments, wide-brimmed hats and a parasol.
Because of the area’s high temperatures, it is important to take precautions to avoid heat exhaustion and heat stroke. Stay indoors when temperatures are extreme. Drink cool liquids often, particularly water, even if you do not feel thirsty. Avoid alcoholic beverages as they dehydrate the body. Eat small, frequent meals and avoid foods high in protein, as they increase metabolic heat.
If you must venture outdoors, avoid going out during midday hours. Wear lightweight, light-colored clothing to reflect sunlight. Avoid strenuous activities and keep hydrated. Cover all exposed skin with a high SPF sunscreen and follow general sun exposure precautions. Never leave children or pets alone in closed vehicles.
Heat exhaustion symptoms include heavy sweating; weakness; cold, pale and clammy skin; a fast, weak pulse; nausea or vomiting; and fainting. If you experience symptoms of heat exhaustion, you should move to a cooler location. Lie down and loosen your clothing, then apply cool, wet cloths to your body. Sip water. If you have vomited and it continues, seek medical attention. You should seek out immediate medical attention if you experience symptoms of heat stroke, such as a body temperature of more than 103 degrees; hot, red, dry or moist skin; a rapid and strong pulse; or unconsciousness. For more information, visit www.scemd.org/prepare/types-of-disasters/extreme-heat.
Because it is so flat, near sea level and laced with lazy rivers, streams, wetlands and swamps, the Lowcountry is at risk of flooding. Heavy rains can quickly fill rivers and streams past capacity and they will burst their bounds, with nothing to stop them. Coastal flooding from severe weather, such as a tropical storm or hurricane, sweeps inward from the sea with a combination of storm surge, wind, rain, erosion and battering debris. It is dangerous to underestimate the force and power of water.
During a flood watch or warning, gather your emergency supplies and stay tuned to local radio or TV stations for further weather information. If you are outdoors during a rainstorm, seek higher ground. Avoid walking through any floodwaters — even water 6 inches deep can sweep you off your feet. If you are driving, avoid flooded areas. The majority of deaths in floods occur when people drive through flooded areas. Roads concealed by water may not be intact. Water only a foot deep can displace a vehicle. If your vehicle stalls, leave it immediately and seek higher ground. Rapidly rising water can engulf a vehicle and sweep it away.
For more on protecting yourself from flooding in South Carolina, go to www.scemd.org/prepare/types-of-disasters/floods.
South Carolina has six coastal counties fronting the Atlantic Ocean and is one of the states most susceptible to hurricanes and tropical storms. Densely populated low coastal areas, with thousands of tourists in peak seasons, greatly increase the state’s vulnerability. Hurricane storm surge (high tidal waves) is the biggest threat to life and property, but heavy rainfall, high winds, tornadoes and inland flooding typically accompany these storms.
Make a hurricane plan in advance and make sure everyone in the household knows what it is. Be prepared. Once a powerful storm hits, it’s too late to get ready. If you live in a mobile home, a high-rise, on the coast or a floodplain, near a river or inland waterway, or if local authorities order you to evacuate, do so without delay.
Hurricane season begins June 1 and ends Nov. 30. Visit www.scemd.org/prepare/types-of-disasters/hurricanes for preparedness tips and help in creating a hurricane emergency plan.
While more likely at certain times of the year, thunderstorms can happen anytime. A severe thunderstorm can knock out power; bring high winds, lightning, flash floods and hail; and spin into a twister in seconds. Pay attention to storm warnings. Remember the rule: “When thunder roars, head indoors.” The National Weather Service recommends following the 30/30 rule: People should seek shelter if the “flash-to-bang” delay — the length of time in seconds from the sight of the lightning flash to the arrival of its subsequent thunder — is 30 seconds or less, and remain under cover for 30 minutes after the final thunderclap.
For more information, visit www.scemd.org/prepare/types-of-disasters/thunderstorms.
Tornadoes can develop quickly, with minimal warning, so it is important to have a plan in place before they occur. If a tornado watch is issued, weather conditions favor the formation of tornadoes, such as during a severe thunderstorm. A tornado warning is issued when a tornado funnel is sighted or indicated by weather radar. You should take shelter immediately during a tornado warning.
For more information on tornado preparedness, go to www.scemd.org/prepare/types-of-disasters/tornadoes.