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Hurricane Ian barreled into South Carolina on Friday afternoon, threatening Charleston, Myrtle Beach, and other coastal cities with 7-foot storm surges and massive – and potentially deadly – flooding.
The system entered Florida on Wednesday, tearing through the western and central portions of the state at nearly the power of a Category 5 storm. With winds exceeding 150 miles per hour, the storm was tied for the fourth-strongest hurricane to ever hit the Sunshine State.
With wind speeds falling to 65 miles per hour, Ian entered the Atlantic Ocean and turned back toward the continental United States on Friday, regaining hurricane status as wind speeds rose to 85 miles per hour, indicating a Category 1 storm.
“Ian is forecast to turn toward the north-northwest by tonight and will move inland across eastern South Carolina and central North Carolina tonight and Saturday,” according to a statement from the National Hurricane Center, which added that the storm will “weaken rapidly after landfall” and dissipate over western North Carolina or Virginia by Saturday night.
Nevertheless, the agency warned residents of coastal South Carolina that storm surges could reach heights of 7 feet in some areas if peak surges occur during high tide. Some portions of western Florida experienced surges as high as 18 feet, causing difficulties for officials attempting rescue efforts.
“The deepest water will occur along the immediate coast near and to the right of the center, where the surge will be accompanied by large waves,” the National Hurricane Center explained. “Surge-related flooding depends on the relative timing of the surge and the tidal cycle, and can vary greatly over short distances.”
Governor Henry McMaster (R-SC) announced in a press release that state agencies are prepared to deal with the consequences of the storm. “A lot of prayers have been answered — this storm is not as bad as it could have been, but don’t let your guard down yet,” he noted. “We are not out of the woods yet, there is water on the roads, still heavy winds, and it is still dangerous in many parts of the state.”
McMaster advised residents in low-lying areas near the coast to move toward higher ground, stay in a well-constructed building away from windows and doors, and remain alert for tornadoes. At least two tornadoes struck Florida on Wednesday, inducing widespread damage.
The National Hurricane Center announced on Thursday that Hurricane Ian would adopt an “atypical structure when it nears the southeastern United States.” Officials cautioned that the system would take a different trajectory than initially anticipated and become “a hurricane again” after gaining speed over the ocean.
“Ian has stubbornly gone east of the track forecast for the past couple of days and has moved back over water faster than expected,” the agency said. “A mid-level shortwave rough moving southward across the southern United States should turn Ian northward overnight and north-northwestward on Saturday.”
Large portions of Florida over which the storm has passed — including Charlotte County and Lee County — are still experiencing power outage rates above 80%. Most outages are concentrated in central Florida, with few outages in the western and southern portions of the state. More than 1.7 million homes and businesses were without power as of Friday afternoon.