Hurricane numbers that count
It sounded at least a little reassuring: Last week the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration forecast a below-to-near-normal year of 2014 hurricane activity, predicting from 8 to 13 named storms and roughly half as many hurricanes, with only one or two reaching "major" (Category 3 or stronger) status.
But as Post and Courier reporter Bo Petersen wrote in his story reporting the latest storm projections: "It only takes one. One hurricane blasting the coast can make for a very bad year."
Plus, while other expert prognostications generally agree with NOAA's "below normal to normal" anticipation of 2014 hurricane totals, nobody can know how accurate any of those numbers are until the looming storm season (June 1-Nov. 30) ends.
These numbers, however, are indisputable: In 1990, one year after Hurricane Hugo, the combined population of Charleston, Berkeley and Dorchester counties was slightly above 500,000. By 2000, one year after the evacuation fiasco (I-26 gridlock) that ensued when Hurricane Floyd threatened our shores before making a sharp northern turn, the number of people living in the tri-county had risen to about 550,000.
Today, that number is more than 700,000 - a nearly 40 percent increase over the tri-county population when Hugo hit.
Even steeper population climbs have occurred from 1990 to today in the coastal counties of Horry (144,000 to 282,000) and Beaufort (86,000 to 168,000).
Yet there's been only a negligible boost in the number of highway lanes available to move us inland if a hurricane demands that coastal residents flee.
Yes, state, federal and local officials have teamed up to craft a more effective, coordinated evacuation plan, including reversing lanes on I-26 and some other roads to maximize inland routes. The authorities have even conducted numerous trial exercises to make those changes as effective as possible.
However, the S.C. coast's remarkable population growth over the last few decades severely intensifies the challenge of getting people out of harm's way when - not if - the next major hurricane comes our way.
We South Carolinians have been riding a lucky streak since Hugo pounded us 24 years and eight months ago.
So after nearly a quarter century without a devastating storm, lots of local residents are relative newcomers, and thus might not ever have had to deal with a hurricane.
Also since Hugo, many S.C. coastal residents have lived through numerous scares about storms that posed a threat to our state before hitting elsewhere.
And over time in such fortunate circumstances, human nature inevitably induces a sense of complacency about Mother Nature's menace.
So remember that we are still in a hurricane zone. Remember that our state's coast is a much more crowded place than it was when Hugo struck its terrible blow.
Remember, too, that a timely exit remains your best defense against getting caught in a massive, risky traffic jam when an onrushing hurricane requires that you flee inland.
Meanwhile, though August and September are generally the peaks of our hurricane vulnerability, the six-month storm season officially begins Sunday with the start of June.
So if you have a storm plan that responsibly includes not just how to ride out a small one but how to get out of the way of a big one, review it.
And if you don't have such a plan, make one - and soon.