Tropical Storm Irma (copy)

Unless the state chips in and helps local communities, storms will always cost us millions of dollars, whether they hit or not. Brad Nettles/Staff

Even if most of South Carolina dodges a bullet from Florence, the state is still on the firing line.

It’s just a matter of time.

The worst thing officials could do is consider us lucky, stick their heads back in the sand and resume business as usual. That’s the very recipe for eventual disaster.

Early last week, it looked as if South Carolina was in the crosshairs of a Category 4 hurricane that brought troubling comparisons to Hugo. There were predictions it might even become a Cat 5 before landfall. Damage would have been measured in billions.

The usual panic ensued. But by the week’s end, the storm turned and weakened — and South Carolina relaxed a bit.

Florence proved the state is getting pretty good at this drill. The mandatory evacuation went smoothly, emergency preparedness was prepared and South Carolina looked exponentially wiser than it did during, say, Hurricane Floyd in 1999.

But it’s time to face facts. The climate is changing, the seas are rising and these tropical storms are getting more intense, dangerous — and frequent.

South Carolina needs more than a solid plan to turn tail and run every year. The state has to be prepared to face hurricanes head on.

Because that’s just how the next one may hit.

Alternative facts?

In North Carolina, experts are already predicting that Florence did more damage than was necessary because of … politics.

The sort of politics that ignores science and sets policy based on what the gomers on talk radio say.

Six years ago, the North Carolina Legislature passed a law prohibiting local communities from using recent studies on sea rise and climate change to set property values or limit development.

The impetus for this was a report that predicted the Atlantic would rise more than 3 feet in the coming century, drastically changing the Tar Heel State’s coastline. Of course, developers and real estate folks raised Cain — and stirred up the usual Greek chorus of low-information types who believe climate change is a liberal conspiracy.

You’d think when they are bailing out their homes every year, they’d realize it was the Atlantic Ocean, and not Democrats, flooding their streets.

But North Carolina declared planning could only be based on “historical data” — knowing full well that nothing like this has happened in the recorded meteorological history of this country.

Sounds pretty stupid, huh?

Well, the same year North Carolina pulled that boneheaded move — 2012 — South Carolina’s Department of Natural Resources shelved a report that talked about the impact climate change could have on this state.

The board was just trying to be business-friendly.

Yeah, ignoring reality is great for business — and waterfront home sales. But it usually means everyone else ends up paying when the federal government has to step in and clean up the mess.

Support locals

When Florence looked its worse, Gov. Henry McMaster ordered a mandatory evacuation of the entire South Carolina coast.

A few hours later, the forecasted track changed and he caught copious amounts of grief.

Stores and restaurants along the coast were shuttered by Wednesday. Charleston’s port closed for business. Convenience stores ran out of gas, grocery stores ran out of food — the result of Armageddon-level hording and lane reversals designed to keep all traffic flowing out of the Lowcountry.

Walmart closed.

Even some Republicans complained, a few calling the governor nasty names. As if there was any possible way for him to win.

Those critics have a small point. It doesn’t take a direct hit from a hurricane to cripple a city. Just the threat of one does plenty of damage to the economy.

But the short-term pain of waiting for a return to normal is nothing compared to the larger problem.

So the state needs to invest in the various flooding projects coastal communities have in the works, but can’t fund on their own. Charleston’s plan alone has a $2 billion price tag.

The state also needs more stringent laws against further development on barrier islands and flood-prone land. There’s a reason this is called the Lowcountry.

It’s time to face the reality that these storms threaten South Carolina nearly every year now. Officials need to invest in preserving the coast, and mitigating flooding, or one day soon there will be nothing left to save.

And it’ll be hard for them to stick their heads in the sand when all the beaches are underwater.

Reach Brian Hicks at bhicks@postandcourier.com.