COLUMBIA — With the weather forecasts shifting, South Carolina officials are now preparing for Hurricane Florence to travel over much of the state, dumping inches of rain and swelling streams and rivers statewide.
Officials with Gov. Henry McMaster's office and representatives from a host of state agencies met Wednesday to plan and prepare for inland flooding if the powerful hurricane does hit the Atlantic coast and track through the Palmetto State.
Alvin Taylor, the director of the S.C. Department of Natural Resources, said the change in the hurricane forecast could mean that up to 10 inches of rain could hit huge swaths of the state. State officials, he added, are putting together flood maps to understand what towns and cities may be most vulnerable to surging waterways farther inland from the coast.
"If you are in a low-lying area, be aware and be on the look out for major flooding," McMaster said at a media briefing Wednesday.
McMaster said the threat of rising rivers was something state officials were concerned about even before the forecasts shifted, sending the hurricane over South Carolina.
A large amount of the rain that falls onto the southern half of North Carolina, he pointed out, also flows into the state through the Broad, Catawba, Pee Dee and Waccamaw rivers. Some of these river overflowed when Hurricane Matthew struck in 2016.
Officials with the U.S. Geological Survey, which maintains river gauges throughout the country, said the water levels in streams and rivers in the Midlands, Pee Dee and the Lowcountry are at or just below average for this time of year.
But in the Upstate, the tributaries and rivers have more water than they usually do in September.
That could be an issue in the Greenville and Spartanburg areas if the region receives a large amount of rain, said John Shelton, the associate director for the USGS South Atlantic Water Science Center in Columbia.
Still, emergency management officials in the Midlands and the Upstate said the shift in the hurricane's forecast path hasn't changed preparations much.
Jessica Stumph, a spokeswoman for the Greenville County Emergency Management Division, said county officials expected heavy winds and rain no matter which direction the massive storm traveled once it hit the coast. "The impacts extend far out from the center," she said.
The Category 3 hurricane is still expected to make landfall somewhere near Myrtle Beach on Saturday. But several forecasts now predict the historic storm will then slowly move along South Carolina's coast before traveling inland toward Columbia and Greenville.
Residents in the Midlands are well aware of the threat that inland flooding can pose. In 2015, more than a dozen people were killed — many in the Columbia area — after heavy rain overflowed dams and backed up streams and rivers.
To prevent a similar scenario from playing out again, the Department of Health and Environmental Control asked owners of state-regulated dams to start lowering water levels on Monday. The hope is that the earthen and concrete structures will be able to stand up to the massive amount of rain expected throughout the weekend.
David Wilson, the acting director for DHEC, said the agency has already conducted inspections of dams throughout the state in recent days.