With hurricane season officially kicking off in South Carolina June 1 and Gov. Henry McMaster declaring May 30 to June 5 as South Carolina Hurricane Preparedness Week, The Post and Courier Myrtle Beach talked with two local emergency management directors and a hurricane expert with Clemson University about hurricanes and how to best prepare for them.
Coastal counties such as Georgetown and Horry have unique concerns, said Pam Murray-Tuite, professor at Clemson's Glenn Department of Civil Engineering, specifically related to flooding.
"The low lying areas of elevation makes (hurricane flooding) a challenge," Murray-Tuite said.
Georgetown County's Emergency Management Director Brandon Ellis and Horry County's Emergency Management Director Randy Webster listed the following as the main things to keep in mind as residents prepare for the 2021 hurricane season.
Plan and prepare now.
Having a plan in place ahead of time for what you, your family and even your locally owned business will do if a hurricane hits is key, Ellis said.
"Build a plan for your family to include your children and your pets because they have unique considerations as well," Ellis said. "We're harping on that locally, ensuring our local businesses and manufacturing facilities in Georgetown County are taking that initiative to plan now."
Ellis also said communicating that plan with your friends, family, neighbors and anyone else will help you not only remember your plan, but make sure others know your plan in case something goes array.
Ellis also recommends residents review their insurance policies so they know what is included and not included and to make sure their coverage is adequate. Finding out you are under-insured is not something you want to learn after the fact, he said.
Know if you live in an evacuation zone, and how they are different from flood zones.
Living in an evacuation zone and living in a flood zone are not the same, Webster said. Evacuation zones are only based on the potential for storm surge, or the immediate impact from the windblown water, while flood zones are based strictly on riverine flooding.
Knowing your evacuation zone, if you live in one, is important too. Both counties have three evacuation zones — A, B and C — and they operate on a hierarchy.
For example, if Zone C is told to evacuate, all three zones are told to evacuate, if Zone B is told to evacuate, Zones A and B are told to evacuate, but not C, and if Zone A is told to evacuate, Zones B and C can stay put.
Zone locations can be found on both Georgetown and Horry counties' websites. Evacuation mandates are recommended to the Governor's Office by local municipalities, and Webster said the goal of zones and mandates is to reduce the risk of resident injury or death.
"There's no way you're going to protect your property to the extent that it's not going to be unscathed in storm surge," Webster said about residents being hesitant to evacuate. "Hopefully it's built enough to where it's still there when you come back, but the damage will be there."
If your zone is told to evacuate, Ellis said it is important to know where you're going to evacuate to. While both Georgetown and Horry counties will have emergency pop-up evacuation shelters ready if needed, both Ellis and Webster recommended talking to family or friends who live inland about possible evacuations, as finding shelter is up to each individual.
The main evacuation route in Georgetown, Ellis said, is U.S. 17 through downtown Georgetown to S.C. 521, which will eventually lead to Columbia. Horry County's evacuation routes can be found on its website.
Even if you have lived through a hurricane before, still prepare and don't overestimate yourself.
Though both Georgetown and Horry Counties have seen an influx of new residents move into them in the last few years who may have never experienced a hurricane before, lifelong residents should still prepare themselves every year, Webster said.
"A lot of folks who've been through named hurricanes here still have not been through hurricane conditions," Webster said. "An example was with Florence, we barely saw hurricane winds in this area. We saw a tremendous amount of flooding from the rainfall, but we haven't had a direct impacts from a category three hurricane or higher storms since Hugo in 1989."
2020 was the fifth consecutive above normal Atlantic hurricane season according to the National Oceanic and Atmosphere Association, and it said this escalation is in part due to warmer Atlantic sea surface temperatures.
As storms become more intense and happen more often, Murray-Tuite said it is important all residents be prepared, no matter how long they have lived in the region.
"Sometimes it takes a really high category to motivate some people to evacuate, so prior experience with hurricanes and how it went in the past might not be a good predictor of how the hurricane could go in the future," Murray-Tuite said.
Bottom line, Ellis and Webster both said, is to listen to your local officials. If they say to evacuate, it's probably for the best, they said.
"Knowledge is power."
South Carolina's Emergency Management Division announced May 28 its new interactive website that will guide people through the fundamentals of being prepared for hurricanes and tropical storms, hurricane.sc.
This, paired with Georgetown and Horry Counties websites, can help Grand Strand residents with more questions not detailed above, such as what to do in the event of days-long power outages, how to handle re-entry if an evacuation does happen and what categories of storms can cause what damage.
"The best thing to do (to prepare for a hurricane), and there's a lot, but in very simple terms, knowledge is power, and there are many places to look for information," Webster said. "The information's the same practically no matter where you get it from, so I would just stick with the county information that's available, and just recognize the fact that hurricanes are going to happen."