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Atlantic Hurricane Season

What to know about Hurricane Season in
South Carolina:

A tropical cyclone is a warm core, non-frontal, low pressure system that develops over tropical or subtropical waters and has an organized cyclonic (counter-clockwise) circulation. On the basis of the sustained (1-minute average) wind speed near the center of the storm, tropical cyclones are classified as: Tropical Depression, less than 39 miles per hour; Tropical Storms, 39-73 miles per hour; or Hurricanes, with winds greater than greater than 74 miles per hour. Only tropical storms and hurricanes are assigned names.

The Atlantic tropical-cyclone basin is one of six in the world and includes much of the North Atlantic Ocean, the Caribbean Sea, and the Gulf of Mexico.

The official Atlantic hurricane "season" begins June 1 and ends November 30 each year; however, the season can begin and has begun earlier and ended later. The earliest tropical cyclone to make landfall on the South Carolina coast was Tropical Storm Anna on May 10th, 2015. The latest tropical cyclone to make landfall on the South carolina coast was an unnamed hurricane on October 31st, 1899.

Early season tropical cyclones generally form in the western Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico. By the end of June or in early July, the area of formation shifts eastward.

In late August, tropical cyclones form over a broad area of the eastern Atlantic, extending eastward to the area of the Cape Verde Islands off the coast of Africa. The period from about August 20 through about September 15 encompasses the maximum of these Cape Verde storms. Most Cape Verde storms cross-vast areas of the Atlantic Ocean before dissipating over the North Atlantic. Those, which do make landfall in the United States can be especially powerful.

By Mid-September, storm frequency begins to decline, the formative area retreats westward back to the Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico. Usually, by mid-November, tropical-cyclone occurrence in the North Atlantic has ceased.

Historical Hurricanes in South Carolina

Hurricanes and tropical storms are irregular visitors to coastal South Carolina. In the period, 1851-2016, only 38 tropical cyclones have made landfall on the South Carolina coast (24 hurricanes, 9 tropical/sub-tropical storms, 5 tropical depressions). Of these, ten were of Category 2 to Category 4 intensity. Since 1900, no Category 5 hurricanes have hit South Carolina. There have been three Category 4 hurricanes (Hazel, 1954, Gracie, 1959, and Hugo, 1989). It is possible that the "Great Storm of 1893" that struck the southern on coast on August 20 of that year was at least a Category 4 storm, but there was no way of accurately measuring tropical-cyclone intensity before 1900. 

In the Colonial period tropical storms and hurricanes were known as "September gales," probably because the ones people remembered and wrote about were those which damaged or destroyed crops just before they were to be harvested.

One such storm that struck Charles Town on September 25, 1686, was "wonderfully horrid and destructive...Corne is all beaten down and lyes rotting on the ground... Aboundance of our hoggs and Cattle were killed in the Tempest by the falls of Trees..." The storm also prevented a Spanish assault upon Charles Town by destroying one of their galleys and killing the commander of the Spanish assault.

In autumn of 1700, "a dreadful hurricane happened at Charles Town which did great damage and threatened that total destruction of the Town, the lands on which it is built being low and level and not many feet about high water mark, the swelling sea rushed in with amazing impetuosity, and obliged the inhabitants to fly to shelter..." A ship, Rising Sun, out of Glasgow and filled with settlers had made port just prior to the storm's landfall. It was dashed to pieces and all on board perished.

Of a storm which passes inland along the coast September 7-9, 1854, Adele Pettigru Allston wrote from Pawleys Island, "The tide was higher than has been known since the storm of 1822. Harvest had just commenced and that damage to the crops in immense. From Waverly to Pee Dee not a bank nor any appearance of land was to be seen...(just) one rolling, dashing Sea, and the water was Salt as the Sea."

By 1893, major population centers could be telegraphically alerted to storms moving along the coast, but there were no warnings for the Sea Islands and other isolated areas. The "Great Storm of 1893" struck the south coast at high tide on August 28, pushing an enormous storm surge ahead of it and creating a "tidal wave" that swept over and submerged whole islands. Maximum winds in the Beaufort area were estimated to be 125 miles per hour, those in Charleston were estimated near 120 miles per hour. At least 2,000 people lost their lives, and an estimated 20,000-30,000 were left homeless and with no mean of subsistence.

Hazel (October 1954) and Gracie (September 1959) have been the most memorable storms in recent years. Hazel, a Category 4 storm, made landfall near Little River, S.C., with 106-miles per hour winds and 16.9 foot storm surge. One person was killed and damage was estimated at $27 million.

Gracie, a Category 4 hurricane, made landfall on St. Helena Island with 130 mph winds and continued toward the north-northwest. Heavy damage occurred along the coast from Beaufort to Charleston. Heavy rains caused flooding through much of the State and crop damage was severe. NOAA's Hurricane Re-analysis Project upgraded Gracie from a Category 3 to a Category 4 hurricane in June, 2016

Hugo (September 1989) made landfall near Sullivan's Island with 120 knot winds. It continued on a northwest track at 25-30 miles per hour and maintained hurricane force winds as far inland as Sumter. Hugo exited the State southwest of Charlotte, N.C., before sunrise on September 22. The hurricane caused 13 directly related deaths and 22 indirectly related deaths, and it injured several hundred people in South Carolina. Damage in the State was estimated to exceed $7 billion, including $2 billion in crop damage. The forests in 36 counties along the path of the storm sustained major damage.

From 1990 to 2016, South Carolina has only had five weak tropical cyclone landfalls along the coast: Tropical Storm Kyle (35 kts) in 2002, Hurricane Gaston (65 kts) and Hurricane Charley (70 kts) in 2004, Tropical Storm Ana (40 kts) in 2015, and Tropical Depression Bonnie (30 kts) in 2016. During September 1999 Hurricane Floyd, a very large storm, came very close to the South Carolina coast, then made landfall near Cape Fear, North Carolina. Hurricane Floyd triggered mandatory coastal evacuations along the South Carolina coast. Heavy rain of more than 15 inches fell in parts of Horry County, S.C., causing major flooding along the Waccamaw River in and around the city of Conway for a month.

Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale

Category 1: Winds 74 to 95 miles per hour. Damage primarily to shrubbery, tree foliage, and unanchored mobile homes; no real damage to other structures.Some damage to poorly constructed signs. Minor pier damage; some small craft in exposed anchorages torn from moorings.

Category 2: Winds 96 to 110 miles per hour. Considerable damage to shrubbery and tree foliage, some trees blown down. Major damage to exposed mobile homes; no major damage to buildings; some damage to roofing materials of buildings; some window and door damage. Extensive damage to poorly constructed signs. Considerable damage to piers, marinas flooded. Small craft in protected anchorages may be torn from moorings.

Category 3: Winds 111 to 129 miles per hour. Foliage torn from trees, large trees blown down. Mobile homes destroyed, some structural damage to small buildings; some damage to roofing materials of buildings; some window and door damage. Practically all poorly constructed signs blown down. Storm surges 9 to 12 feet above normal tide heights.

Category 4: Winds 130 to 156 miles per hour.Shrubs and trees blown down; all signs down. Complete destruction of mobile homes. Extensive damage to roofing materials, windows and doors. Complete failure of roofs on small buildings. Major damage to lower floors of near-shore structures due to flooding and battering by waves and floating debris.

Category 5: Winds greater than 157 miles per hour. Shrubs and trees blown down; all signs down. Extensive shattering of glass in windows and doors; complete failure of roofs on many residences and industrial buildings. Complete destruction of mobile homes; small buildings overturned or blown down; some complete failures of other structures.

How to Prepare for a Hurricane:

1. Check your disaster supply. Your supply kit should be ready to go with at least a gallon of water per person, non-perishable food for three days, flashlights, batteries, candles, and matches.

2. Keep your gas tank full. While you should be turning off all the gas and gas appliances in your home, you’ll also want to keep your car with a full tank of gas in case you need to evacuate.

3. Have an evacuation plan in place. When a disaster strikes, it’s important that everyone is on the same page. It reduces panic, confusion, and the chances that someone or something gets left behind. To learn your designated evacuation route, click here.

4. Listen to local radio and television broadcasts for current conditions and recommended actions. You can also sign up to receive emergency alerts on your mobile device here.

These are just a few of the things you should do to prepare. For further information, we encourage you to check out our county government resources: 

Aiken County Office of Emergency Management: 803-642-1623
Barnwell County Emergency Management Agency: 803-259-7013
Lexington County Emergency Preparedness Division: 803-785-2449
Orangeburg County Office of Emergency Services: 803-533-6265
Richland County Emergency Services: 803-576-3400

During a Hurricane

  1. Stay away from low-lying and flood prone areas.
  2. Always stay indoors during a hurricane, because strong winds will blow things around.
  3. Leave mobile homes and to go to a shelter.
  4. If your home isn't on higher ground, go to a shelter.
  5. If emergency managers say to evacuate, then do so immediately.

What Happens If My Home or Home I am Purchasing is Damaged by a Hurricane?

As a hurricane approaches, the seller is responsible for mitigating the damage that could occur by boarding up windows and shutting off electricity. In addition, both wind and rain damage need to be documented and reported.

After the storm, the seller should survey the damage to his/her home and property. If FEMA has declared a state of natural disaster, any home that was appraised or inspected prior to the storm will have to be re-inspected. Once that is done, the seller’s agent has to report the damage to the buyer’s agent.

In addition, lenders mandate that homes backed by a mortgage need to be inspected to ensure that there’s no major damage. If there is damage, many real estate agents will not list the property until repairs are made. The property has to be restored to its original state.

As per the As-Is Residential Contract for Sale and Purchase, the standard contract used by many South Carolina real estate agents, potential closing delays are covered under force majeure or unforeseeable circumstances that prevent someone from fulfilling a contract. Consequently, there will be an established timeframe of 5-10 days to ensure “services essential for Closing to be unavailable.”

If after 30 days force majeure prevents the obligations of the contract from being carried out, the buyer or seller is permitted to terminate the contract, and the buyer’s deposit will be refunded.


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