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  • Ian Brooking

Coastal remembers historic floods

It has been two years since massive rainfall lead to historic flooding in Horry County that caused Coastal Carolina University to close its doors.

From Oct. 1, 2015 to Oct. 6, 2015, rain poured across the Palmetto State. North Myrtle Beach recorded 15.59 inches of rain while 23.88 inches of rain fell just 50 miles south in Georgetown.

On Sunday, Oct. 4, 2015, rain fell in buckets on the campus of Coastal Carolina, quickly filling up ponds, as well as creating them all across campus.

Kelsey Brooks, who was a freshman at the time, recalled what it was like to witness this type of downpour.

“I remember seeing people swimming in the Ingle parking lot and paddle boarding in the pond just outside Chanticleer Hall,” said Brooks. “I was off campus at the time and got stuck at my now ex’s apartment, and I just remember seeing all these college kids doing crazy stuff in the rain.”

While many believed that the rain was caused from Hurricane Joaquin, a "fish storm" out in the Atlantic, that was actually not the case.

Ed Piotrowski, chief meteorologist at WPDE in Conway, talked about the misinformation and gave his take on what caused these historic floods.

“Joaquin passed 750 miles east of us, so it was not the primary reason for all the rain and the flooding,” said Piotrowski. “There were several parameters that came together to produce catastrophic flooding in parts of our area. First, a cold front moved to the south allowing a pool of cool air to settle over the Carolinas. Meanwhile, a low pressure in the upper atmosphere developed over the Gulf Coast and barely moved for 4 days. The circulation around that tapped into deep tropical moisture in the Caribbean Sea sending it northward up and over the dome of cool air in place. As that warm, tropical air was forced to rise over the cool air, rounds of very heavy rain were rung out over the area. “

Piotrowski also recalled what was going through his mind as some of the worst flooding in over 90 years hit the community.

“Several days before everything unfolded, I recall telling my bosses that a historic rain and flood event was going to happen across South Carolina, and we needed to make sure our viewers and staff were prepared,” said Piotrowski. “I repeatedly said in the newscasts that this was going to be catastrophic for parts of South Carolina and that you needed to prepare for flooding like you've never seen. We just weren't quite sure exactly what areas were going to be hit hardest. As the event happened over the course of four days, I remember vividly seeing some areas getting round after round of relentless heavy rain. In the end, some areas received more than two feet of rain over four days.”

The torrential rain on that Sunday led to classes being cancelled on that following Monday.

In the past three years, Coastal has closed campus or evacuated campus due to flooding or hurricanes. Last year, the campus was closed for nearly two weeks as Hurricane Matthew rammed the east coast.

The campus put in an order of evacuation this past September, but rescinded it within 36 hours after seeing that Hurricane Irma was going to pose no real threat to the campus.

Brooks talked about the campus dealings with severe weather and how well they’ve handled it during her time as a student here.

“I think Coastal has done a relatively good job, but I also think our infrastructure is kind of old and less functional than it could be,” said Brooks. “Especially the drains in University Place. It’s always pretty bad there. But as far as evacuation goes, I think Coastal has done a good job, despite changes in the weather.”

South Carolina has always been a threat for severe weather, and Conway has seen the impacts of hurricanes and flash floods.

Piotrowski wants all to remember to be smart and to be aware.

“The most important thing you can do is be aware of your surroundings,” said Piotrowski. “Even if you've never flooded before, a stalled system that takes advantage of tropical moisture can produce rainfall amounts that you may have never experienced. Have a plan to protect your life and property and always listen to your county emergency manager.”

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