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Sinkhole bigger than a school bus opens up in Bluffton. Check out this week’s rain totals

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Biggest hazards sometimes come after the storm.
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Biggest hazards sometimes come after the storm.

When the intense rains in Beaufort County finally took a break on Thursday and Friday, they left behind some signs of the chaos.

Downed trees blocked highways earlier this week and one gated community on Hilton Head Island had to close an entrance to take down two large trees uprooted by the rain.

Oh, and there was a sinkhole.

Residents in Bluffton’s Belfair gated community dealt with a sinkhole on Belfair Oaks Boulevard Wednesday morning, according to nearby resident Jack Suslak.

Sinkholes, while they seem random and sudden, are actually the result of prolonged hallowing out just below the surface, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

“When it rains, all of the water stays inside the sinkhole and typically drains into the subsurface,” a USGS article on sinkholes states. “Sinkholes are dramatic because the land usually stays intact for a period of time until the underground spaces just get too big. If there is not enough support for the land above the spaces, then a sudden collapse of the land surface can occur.”

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Jack Suslak Special to The Island Packet

Beaufort County isn’t necessarily a stranger to sinkholes. A water main break in July 2016 caused one in Old Town Bluffton, and a sinkhole appeared on Parris Island earlier this year.

When the South Carolina drought committee met Thursday morning, they acknowledged the pain of 16.36 inches of rain recorded at the Bluffton Community Collaborative Rain, Hail & Snow Network (CoCoRaHS) weather station between June 7 and June 13.

Some areas received more rainfall Tuesday and Wednesday than they did during recent tropical storms and hurricanes.

Hurricane Matthew’s rain totals at reached 14.04 inches in Beaufort County. During Irma’s visit to Hilton Head, the area saw 7.76 inches of rain. The recent rainfall also surpassed Tropical Storm Hermine’s total rainfall in 2016 of three to five inches.

But maybe this week’s rain was not enough.

Although the committee removed the drought declaration for three counties, Beaufort was not one of them. The area remains at an “incipient drought” level until the committee convenes again.

“We went from excessive heat to excessive rain in some areas. There are probably questions on how we have flooding and drought at the same time,” Hope Mizzell, S.C. State Climatologist, said in a news release. “The eight-day rainfall totals were highly variable ranging from only 1.34 inches at Fort Lawn to 16.46 inches in Bluffton. Ten inches is enough to end a drought, three inches is not.”

Ten inches of rain was enough to cause some problems in Beaufort County, however.

Massive amounts of water that wouldn’t drain closed down lanes on parts of U.S. 278 on Wednesday morning, causing eastbound traffic backups for several miles.

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Heavy rains on Wednesday pooled on U.S. 278 on Hilton Head Island between Mathews Drive and Shelter Cove Lane. The right on-island lane was blocked by a Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office deputy directing traffic around the standing water, which backed up traffic for miles. Taiwan Scott Submitted to The Island Packet

Hilton Head Plantation closed one of its gates for two hours on Wednesday morning to cut down two “very large oak trees,” according to a news release from the community.

“The heavy rain caused two very large oak trees just inside the Cypress Gate to become uprooted and were balancing precariously over Seabrook Drive. Due to the height and mass of the two trees, if they fell the trees would have landed across all of Seabrook Drive possibly hitting vehicles and pedestrians,” the release said.

There was a good side to all this rain, though.

“The recent rainfall, along with higher humidity, has helped reduce the number of wildfires statewide. This was very much needed, since the state was well above the 5-year and 10-year averages for the number of fires just a week ago,” Mizzell said in the news release.

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A view from the Island Packet in Bluffton around 4:30 p.m. Wednesday shows rain pouring off the building.

Weekend forecast

Things are looking up for the weekend across Beaufort County, according to the National Weather Service Charleston.

On Saturday, it’ll be sunny with a high of 84 in Beaufort and Bluffton with slight winds. On Hilton Head, the high will be around 82 degrees.

Rain won’t visit our area until Sunday afternoon, when most of the county has a 20 percent chance of seeing thunderstorms form after 2 p.m.

But starting next week, the chance for rain returns. Monday will see a 20 percent chance of showers and thunderstorms, and that chance increases slowly throughout the week.

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Katherine Kokal moved to South Carolina in 2018 after graduating from the University of Missouri and loves everything about the Lowcountry that isn’t a Palmetto Bug. She has won South Carolina Press Association awards for in-depth and government beat reporting. On the weekends, you can find Kati doing yoga and hiking Pinckney Island.

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