The looming threat of flooding rainfall from an incoming low pressure system, predicted to morph into Tropical Storm Irma along the North Carolina coast, put county officials and transportation crews on alert Monday.
Forecasters are calling for a potential of 5-7 inches of rain for coastal communities and 3-5 inches of rain for more inland parts of Horry County through 2 p.m. Tuesday. Higher amounts of rainfall could hit isolated parts of the coast and more flooding is predicted inland.
“Significant levels of standing water on roadways can occur. The public is warned not to attempt to drive through it,” said Leland Colvin, deputy secretary for engineering with the S.C. Department of Transportation. “Standing water can be life-threatening.”
The threat of heavy rainfall prompted Horry County Fire Rescue to remind people of the dangers posed by flood waters.
“It is known that six inches of rushing water can knock over an adult, 12 inches of rushing water can carry away a small car, and two feet of rushing water can carry away any sized passenger vehicle,” said Mark Nugent, a public information officer for HCFR in a release Monday.
“We stress how important it is to not walk or drive through water, particularly moving water,” he said. “This places your life at risk, as well as the lives of rescue workers who are summoned to rescue you.”
Half of the SCDOT maintenance forces in Horry and Georgetown counties were preparing to report to work at 7 p.m. Monday to clear roads of downed trees or debris and to close roads that may become flooded, according to the DOT. The remaining crews in those two counties were inspecting locations during the daylight hours Monday that are prone to flooding.
Colvin warned motorists not to drive around any barricades SCDOT uses to close roads.
“Please be cautious when driving during these conditions, seek alternate routes and avoid driving at night if at all possible,” Nugent cautioned.
Rivers are rising
A flood warning is in effect for areas near the Waccamaw River in Conway from Tuesday morning until further notice. As of Monday afternoon, the river was at 10.35 feet and was expected to rise above the flood stage by Tuesday morning.
Forecasters with the National Weather Service in Wilmington, N.C., predict the river will continue to rise to around 11.9 feet by Thursday morning.
If the river reaches 12 feet, flooding will worsen in the Lees Landing, Riverfront South, Pitch Landing and Savannah Bluff communities and flood waters will begin to affect homes north of Conway on Riverside Drive, according to the NWS. Swamps will be also be heavily flooded.
A truck was driving through flood waters at the Reaves Ferry boat landing along the Waccamaw River just outside of Conway Monday morning. Parts of the landing were already submerged by 11 a.m.
Horry and Georgetown counties are currently under a tropical storm watch, a flash flood watch and a river flood warning.
Double red flags
The system was predicted to reach Georgetown and Horry counties late Monday into Tuesday morning.
“The storm may not become tropical until it passes by the Cape Fear (N.C.) area,” noted Steven Pfaff, warning coordination meteorologist with NWS, in his latest briefing.
“Regardless of the storm’s character, the area of low pressure will still create impacts across part of the area later today, tonight and into Tuesday morning,” he said Monday.
Dangerous surf conditions with strong rip currents and steep waves spurred swimming bans along the coast Monday.
Hazardous boating conditions, steep waves near inlet entrances, strong rip currents and rough surf were expected for the coast through Tuesday morning.
Horry County moved to a level 4 operating condition at 8 a.m. Monday ahead of the incoming storm system.
“OPCON 4 puts Horry County on ‘alert’ status, which means county officials have begun discussions with South Carolina Emergency Management, (and) coastal communities including local municipalities, and will continue to monitor the situation closely,” according to a release from the county.
The Horry County Emergency Operations Center was not activated Monday.
Myrtle Beach could see peak wind gusts of up to 33 mph and Little River could see 34 mph gusts.