Storm floods Beaufort County roads, brings record-setting month of rain

bheffernan@islandpacket.comFebruary 26, 2013 

A storm front pushed severe weather through Beaufort and Jasper counties Tuesday, flooding roads and prompting the National Weather Service to briefly issue a tornado warning for parts of Beaufort County.

The warning was lifted by 9 a.m., and lasted only 13 minutes.

Tuesday's showers, however, continued, bringing unofficial record-setting rainfall totals for the month.

This February has been one of the wettest on record, with more than 9.72 inches of rainfall measured at Savannah-Hilton Head International Airport, as of about 5 p.m. Tuesday.

The total just tops the old record for February -- 9.71 inches -- recorded in 1874, according to the National Weather Service. Average February rainfall is just 3.69 inches.

At Beaufort Marine Corps Air Station, 12 inches have fallen so far this month. Record amounts were not immediately available for the base's weather center Tuesday.

The rain -- and soil already saturated by downpours late last week -- caused "ponding" on roads and minor flooding of low-lying or poor-draining areas. Flooding closed the ramp from westbound S.C. 170 to eastbound U.S. 278 on Tuesday morning.

Schools in several Georgia counties were canceled because of flooding fears; Beaufort County public schools remained open.

However, water on roads made boarding buses and traveling slower than usual, as did additional traffic as parents waited with their children in their cars for pickup at several bus stops, according to district spokesman Jim Foster.

By the afternoon the rain had cleared, and the county is expected to remain dry for the next seven days.

February's deluge comes after a particularly dry winter. Only about a half-inch of rain fell in January, almost three inches below normal.

Despite some heavy showers earlier this month, the National Drought Mitigation Center still considered parts of Beaufort County to be in "severe drought" as recently as last week.

That will likely change.

Wes Tyler of the S.C. State Climatology Office said the recent showers should be enough to decrease or eliminate the drought warnings.

"We're wet. We're wet everywhere, and if we're not, we're muddy," Tyler said. "We need some drying. We need some sunshine."

The rain, however, should have refreshed the air we breathe.

"The rain pretty much washes all of the pollen out from the trees and bushes and cleans out the air," said Wes Behrend, air quality meteorologist for the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control.

But as one irritant washes away, another might take flight -- standing water could give an early start to mosquito breeding, DHEC public-health entomologist Chris Evans said.

However, Evans said mosquitoes also need warm temperatures and daylight to hatch. That means people can help prevent the pests from breeding by eliminating standing water and removing plants and weeds from the shallow edges of ponds.

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