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Downtown Charleston broke record for flooded days last year; Rain, floods continue to swamp Lowcountry

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Boys jump across Rutledge Avenue on Tuesday, June 6, 2017, as nearly an inch and a half of rain swamped the city Tuesday and Wednesday. Michael Pronzato/Staff

If you thought downtown Charleston flooded a lot last year — in the Market, by MUSC, in multiple neighborhoods — you were right — it was a record number of days the city was wet.

Oceanographers from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration are reporting that 50 days of tidal flooding struck the city in 2016, snarling traffic, sending water into homes and generally becoming business as usual.

The number is up from 38 days in 2015 — the previous record.

And history may be telling us it could be a continuing pattern of heavy deluges.

The 50-day mark is an increase of two weeks from the average during the 1960s and there have been three record years in the last four, according to NOAA. 

"Charleston keeps breaking its historical record for high-tide flooding," NOAA oceanographer William Sweet said Wednesday.

"There is an underlying pattern: Annual flood frequencies are accelerating, they will continue to do so with relative sea level increases, and it is important for Charleston and other coastal communities to plan accordingly," he said.

Meanwhile, scientists have predicted tidal floods will affect Charleston for up to 180 days in 30 years because of a 2½-foot rise in sea level expected over the next 50 years.

The good news this week is that Charleston, the Lowcountry and pretty much the entire state of South Carolina are back to near normal for the year, and that means wet after drought conditions in some places had been in effect.

 Almost two inches of rain fell at the National Weather Service's gauge at Charleston Airport, said Steven Taylor, lead meteorologist for the agency's Charleston office. In all, 0.63 inches were recorded on Tuesday and 1.1 inches on Wednesday as of 7:45 p.m.  

That brought the area back up above normal rainfall for the month and within an inch of normal for the year.

The skies are expected to clear up Thursday and stay that way through the weekend at least, the National Weather Service said.

"Friday looks downright pleasant," said Weather Service meteorologist James Carpenter.

But don't look for a break from that nasty street flooding any time soon. Flooding caused by Tuesday's downpours was exacerbated by the evening high tide, said meteorologist Jonathan Lamb with the Weather Service.

The deluge this week was spotty. More than a half-inch of rain fell in one hour Wednesday morning at the Weather Service office, Carpenter said. A weather observer in Mount Pleasant reported more than 5 inches of rain overall.

It didn't rival Florida, where more than 10 inches of rain fell near Fort Myers, according to AccuWeather.com. Or North Carolina, where more than 7 inches were reported near Wilmington and Durham, among other locations, according to AccuWeather and other sources.

But it's significant. The state has battled on-again, off-again drought for nearly two decades. By the time the rain started falling, only a band of counties between Barnwell and Greenville still were listed in incipient drought, or under the threat of drought.

The state's Drought Committee said the incipient call for those counties was marginal: A number of conditions suggested they, too, were out of the drought. It was the first time since July 2016 that no county in the state was considered to actually be in drought.

Scattered afternoon and evening thunder showers more typical of the season are expected to return Monday, Lamb said.

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