South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley didn’t mince any words Sunday about just how dangerous a situation the weather had become in her state.
“We haven’t seen this level of rain in the Lowcountry in 1,000 years,” Haley said at an afternoon press conference. “That’s how big this is.”
It wasn’t hyperbole.
Certain areas of South Carolina had never before been deluged with such eye-popping rainfall tallies: more than 24 inches in Mount Pleasant, nearly 20 inches in areas around Charleston and more than 18 inches in the Gills Creek area of Columbia, according to CNN meteorologist Taylor Ward.
Haley: keep off the roads
Steven Pfaff of the National Weather Service said the “phenomenal amount of rainfall” was “a very dangerous situation.”
“Flash flood warnings have been issued and many areas that received a large amount of rainfall 24 hours ago are being hit hard again,” said Plaff. “This is an extremely dangerous situation in those areas.”
The biggest danger seemed to be on the state’s roadways; the historic rainfall and flooding had been responsible for three deaths and more than 750 roadway rescues in one 12-hour stretch, according to Haley.
The weather service issued a public service announcement video reminding people not to drive through rushing waters, no matter how shallow the water appears to be. “Do not attempt to drive into flooded roadways … it takes just 12 inches of flowing water to carry off a small car. Turn around, don’t drown,” it said.
“Regardless of where you are in the state, stay home,” said the governor. “Stay off the roadways.”
But she didn’t just urge South Carolinians to stay off the roads. In some places she made sure of it by closing all interstate highways in and around the capital city of Columbia.
“This is an incident we’ve never dealt with before,” she said.
National Guard deployed
Haley announced Sunday that in addition to the eight swift water rescue teams and 11 aircraft, 600 National Guardsmen had been deployed to assist in rescues and evacuations, and that hundreds more were on standby.
The day before, President Barack Obama signed a statewide emergency declaration retroactive to Thursday, authorizing federal aid in anticipation of more rain.
Haley also said several fellow states, including North Carolina, Tennessee and Florida had lent resources as well.
Not over yet
The weather service forecast “catastrophic flash flooding” overnight into Monday in Berkeley County in South Carolina, where more than 18 inches of rain had fallen in 24 hours, according to the CNN Weather Center.
“It’s not over,” warned Haley. “We are in the middle of it…we have another 24 hours of this.”
Northeast on deck
The wet misery isn’t just limited to South Carolina; as of Sunday evening, both Carolinas, New Jersey and Virginia were under states of emergency, and the weather service has issued flood watches stretching from Georgia to Delaware.
But Hurricane Joaquin, downgraded to Category 3 strength earlier in the day Sunday and only expected to continue to weaken, isn’t necessarily the culprit — it’s coming from two sources.
The low pressure area associated with the rain soaking the Carolinas is funneling heavy tropical moisture into the region, creating the torrential rainfall, the CNN Weather Center said.
The moisture the storm is pulling in is also associated with Hurricane Joaquin, but the two systems shouldn’t be confused.
Joaquin inched northward in the Atlantic on Sunday, but luckily away from U.S. shores. However, the storm is expected to push in a storm surge in the Northeast as it passes, resulting in a one-two water punch.
“Life-threatening rip currents, high surf and coastal flooding, mainly at high tides, will stretch nearly the entire eastern U.S. coast,” CNN meteorologist Michael Guy said.