South Carolina is known as a tourist's paradise and a resident's cherished home. However, many visitors and natives are unaware that South Carolina is susceptible to nearly every weather related disaster except a volcanic eruption. Hazards range from deadly wildfires to major earthquakes and beyond.
The state's most recent and destructive fire occured along Highway 31 in Horry County. Dry conditions and changing wind patterns contributed to a fire that burned more than 19,000 acres and 25 million dollars in property damage. The only bright spot for the Highway 31 wildfire was that no loss of life occurred. Forestry officials worry that a similar fire closer to Columbia, Greenville-Spartanburg, Charleston or Myrtle Beach could be more deadly. Late winter through early spring are the most active months for South Carolina wildfires. Potent high pressure systems kick up winds and dry out the lush landscape. Many wildfires result from manmade fires that get out of hand. This is why the state is very proactive when it comes to authorizing outdoor burns.
According to a study done by the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources, the state averages 28 tornadoes per year. The study indicates the number has risen significantly in the last 20 years with improved National Weather Service radar technology. The last significant tornado outbreak hit South Carolina in March 2008. Many Midlands residents had to evacuate the annual St. Pats in Five Points when a Tornado Watch was issued for Columbia.
Last week's historic and tragic tornado outbreak in Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia is a sobering reminder that significant, long track tornadoes can strike the southeast. April was an especially significant month for tornadoes generating more than 600 when the monthly average is 161. Another interesting note, May is the month that traditionally sees the most tornadic activity. Historically, South Carolina tornadoes range from an EF0 to EF3, but larger twisters can't be ruled out. Last week's outbreak produced three tornadoes in the Midlands. Sumter and Calhoun counties saw minimal damage as a result. Midlands residents that mistakenly believe downtown Columbia can't be hit, should carefully evaluate the damage in Birmingham and Tuscaloosa.
Longtime South Carolina residents will never forget Hugo's impacts. From Charleston to Sumter to Bishopville and up through Charlotte, Hugo left a trail of death and destruction. The storm was so impactful that it changed the way emergency management agencies around the country deal with hurricanes. Hurricane Hazel was another historic storm that rocked the state. It made such a cultural impact that a local pro baseball player was nicknamed after the storm. Other tropical systems have come through and devastated the area. Some weren't even direct impacts with the state. Tornado outbreaks have been generated by tropical systems that moved up from the Gulf. With June looming on the horizon, it's never too early to get a hurricane preparedness kit ready for your family.
WACH Fox has spent the last four years investigating the potential for a major earthquake in the Midlands. Various experts have shared their concern that the state is overdue for a major quake. For those wondering what a quake might do to South Carolina, look no further than the 1886 Charleston quake. Experts place it at a 7.3 magnitude. The event was felt from Cuba to Boston to the Mississippi River. You can still see the cracks and earthquake bolts in buildings throughout Charleston's downtown. Very few buildings are retrofitted and equipped for an earthquake across the state. Brick buildings would suffer the greatest structural damage in future quakes. South Carolina experiences between 30 and 40 tremors a year, but perhaps the most dangerous aspect of an earthquake is that it can't be predicted. The State's Emergency Management Division puts potential losses in the billions for a major event. It's why their public information staff has been highly proactive in putting out their annual Earthquake Awareness Guide. The second largest South Carolina quake hit the Upstate. A sobering reminder that the Midlands, Pee Dee and Upstate are just as susceptible to quakes as Charleston.
The best course of action for residents is to have a safety plan and survival kit in place when disaster strikes. When preparing a plan, it's best to envision different scenerios and places you might be during an emergency. Officials recommend that you discuss a plan with your family. A survival kit should have everything you would need during an emergency. This includes important medications, clean clothes, fresh water, batteries, non-perishable food items, cash, important documents, pet food, flashlights, generators, boots, underwear, contact numbers and various other essentials. The South Carolina Emergency Management Division has a number of resources to help your prepare for the worst.