Hurricane Irene could churn toward SC coast this weekend

August 22, 2011 

Beaufort County officials are keeping a sharp eye on Hurricane Irene as forecasts indicate the storm could hit the South Carolina coast later this week.

The storm could make landfall near the South Carolina-North Carolina state line as a major hurricane Saturday, according to an advisory from the U.S. National Hurricane Center.

Forecasters Monday projected Irene, a Category 2 storm, could grow into a Category 3 hurricane, with winds exceeding 110 mph by today, and move along Florida’s Atlantic coast toward South Carolina. The center cautioned that by the weekend, the storm’s path could vary significantly.

“The next 24 hours will be very, very critical to determining what impacts we see here,” said Paul Rasch, emergency management coordinator for the Town of Hilton Head Island. “Most of the models indicate the storm is turning to the (east) and heading to the north. The question becomes how sharply and how soon it turns.

“It’s too early to have a high degree of confidence in the forecast, as it’s four to five days out.”

Nonetheless, emergency management officials say residents should begin to prepare now, in case Irene makes landfall nearby or comes close to shore.

“This will be a good exercise for people to make an inventory of what they would take with them and where they would go in the event of an evacuation,” said Todd Ferguson, Beaufort County director of emergency management. “People should start thinking about preparations they need to make. Think about pets, medication, three to four days of water and food and important papers you would need to take with you, such as insurance policies, wills, mortgages, etc.”

Beaufort County hasn’t taken a direct hit from a hurricane in decades, but it isn’t immune from one, Ferguson said.

And Rasch said Irene could affect the area without coming ashore. Hurricane-force winds can extend outward up to 30 miles from the center. Tropical storm-force winds can extend outward as far as 185 miles, according to the Hurricane Center.

In Columbia, the State Emergency Management Division went on increased alert, notifying key state agencies to review their hurricane preparedness plans and to be on call.

Joe Farmer of the state Emergency Management Division said he’s not worried about complacency this time. “If it does move this way there will be a lot of public notice given and people will be warned,” he said.

Farmer said state emergency officials were in contact with the Federal Emergency Management Agency on Monday.

Since 1900, 16 hurricanes have hit South Carolina, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. No hurricane has made landfall on the U.S. mainland since Ike hit the Texas coast in 2008.

Irene, the ninth named storm of the 2011 Atlantic season, could be the first major hurricane to hit the South Carolina coast since Hurricane Hugo did 22 years ago. That storm hit 35 miles north of Charleston with winds as strong as 130 mph.

In 1999, Hurricane Floyd prompted massive evacuations along the Georgia, South Carolina and Florida coasts but didn’t come ashore in the state.

The last evacuation of any kind for Beaufort County was in 2004, when then-Gov. Mark Sanford called for a voluntary evacuation for Hurricane Charley, which hit near Cape Romain and North Myrtle Beach as a weakened hurricane after making landfall in Florida.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Follow reporter Tom Barton at

Related content

Beaufort County Emergency Management

The National Hurricane Center

The Weather Channel’s Hurricane Central page

Hurricane Preparedness

2011 South Carolina Hurricane Guide

Don’t get caught off-guard! Make sure you’re prepared for a hurricane. Get evacuation routes, a list of local shelters and preparation tips, and view storm surge graphics, destruction scenarios and Twitter updates at

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