Category 5 Hurricane Irma is officially headed our way — although we’re not sure yet what category it will be when it affects the South Carolina coast.
The amount of damage from wind and the storm surge is different for each category. While it’s hard to tell exactly how much damage would occur, Horry County Emergency Management guidelines and National Weather Service storm surge hazard maps offer an idea of how each category of storm could impact the Grand Strand under a direct hit.
National Weather Service Meteorologist Steve Pfaff cautions that the storm surge maps are not an exact science are used only for planning purposes. He said that the surge may be different depending on the track of the storm and the tide phase.
Category 1: 74 - 95 mph winds
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This category of storm could put down power lines and cause some roof damage to buildings. Trees may topple, branches may snap, and power lines could go down.
Some flooding could occur close to Ocean Boulevard, but the biggest flooding threat is south towards Murrells Inlet and north towards Atlantic Beach and North Myrtle Beach according to storm surge maps.
Category 2: 96 - 110 mph winds
Winds would cause “extensive damage” to roofs, and the amount of trees toppled or snapped could cause numerous roadblocks, according to county emergency management. A “near-total” power outage would be expected and could last days or even weeks.
Flooding could occur in Myrtle Beach and on Ocean Boulevard with the most severe flooding affecting The Dunes Golf and Beach Club, Withers Swash Park and areas directly to the north and south of Myrtle Beach State Park.
Murrells Inlet, Georgetown and North Myrtle Beach would still get the worst of the flooding according to surge maps.
Category 3: 111 - 129 mph winds
The county says that “devastating damage” would occur, with well-built framed homes sustaining “major damage.” Water and power could be unavailable for days or weeks.
Surge maps show most of Ocean Boulevard under 9 feet of water. Flooding would affect parts of Kings Highway and U.S. Highway 501 as well. Parts of Georgetown, Murrells Inlet, Garden City, Surfside Beach and North Myrtle Beach could be under 9 feet of water.
There would also be extensive flooding along the Waccamaw River and Intracoastal Waterway. Parts of Socastee on both sides of Socastee Boulevard would flood.
Category 4: 130 - 156 mph winds
“Catastrophic damage” would occur, with houses sustaining “severe” damage due to the “loss of most of the roof structure” as well as exterior walls, according to the county. Water and power could be out for weeks and fallen trees would “isolate” neighborhoods. Most of the county would be “uninhabitable” for weeks or even months.
Most of Myrtle Beach, including the Market Common and Coastal Grand Mall could be underwater according to storm surge maps. The coastline between the Myrtle Beach Boardwalk and Kings Highway could be under 9 feet of water.
Much of Georgetown, Murrells Inlet, Garden City, North Myrtle Beach and most of Cherry Grove could also be under 9 feet of water.
Category 5: 157 mph winds or stronger
A “high percentage of framed homes” would be destroyed, according to the county. Utilities would go out for possibly months, and the area would be uninhabitable for weeks or months.
Most of Myrtle Beach, Georgetown, Murrells Inlet, Surfside Beach, Conway, North Myrtle Beach, and Cherry Grove could be under 9 feet of water.
Parts of Carolina Forest between South Carolina Highway 31 and Carolina Forest Boulevard could be flooded as well.