What is being described as”Biblical” rainfalls have caused catastrophic flooding that has devastated much of South Carolina and killed at least 14 people. This is one of the worst flooding events in US history with more than half of the state submerged under water. The damage from the “once in a thousand year rainfalls” is expected to amount to many billions of dollars. Such rainfalls and flooding are known to be consistent with climate change.
“We haven’t seen this level of rain in the low country in a thousand years,” Gov. Nikki Haley told reporters Sunday afternoon. “That’s how big this is.”
“The flooding is unprecedented and historical,” said Dr. Marshall Shepherd, a meteorologist and director of the atmospheric sciences program at the University of Georgia, in an email to The Associated Press.
In some parts of the state received more than 24 inches of rain. Charleston set a new daily record on Saturday when it experienced 11.5 inches of rain and the city of Columbia reported a new 24-hour record rainfall – 7.77 inches between 11 a.m. Saturday and 11 a.m. Sunday.
The flooding was so bad that it washed away a gauge used to measure water levels in Gils Creek in the city of Columbia. Before it was swept away it recorded water levels more than 10 feet above the flood stage. Another gauge along the Congaree River in downtown Columbia peaked at four times the historic maximum before also being swept away.
Nearly 30,000 customers lost power at the height of the storms and hundreds of people had to be rescued from their rooftops as the floodwaters rose. Dozens of dams across the state have been breached by the unprecedented rainfall. The state Department of Transportation said nearly 500 roads and bridges were still closed Tuesday morning including a 90-mile stretch of Interstate 95.
Gov. Haley declared a state of emergency and President Barack Obama signed a disaster declaration for the state of South Carolina, ordering federal aid to the state.
The exceptional flooding can partially be blamed on a persistent stream of tropical moisture from Hurricane Joaquin. Powerful rainfall and flooding related to hurricanes are known to be intensified by the changing climate,
“Joaquin has been traveling over a record-warm ocean surface and undoubtedly that has contributed to its rapid intensification,” Michael Mann, director of the Earth System Science Center at Pennsylvania State University, told The Huffington Post last week. “In a very basic sense, warmer ocean surface temperatures mean there is more energy available to strengthen these storms. So we expect more intense hurricanes in general in a warmer world.”
Although the rains have subsided the water levels in major rivers will continue to rise for most of the week as runoff from tributaries upstream slowly makes its way to the Atlantic.
“This is not over. Just because the rain stops does not mean that we are out of the woods,” Gov. Nikki Haley said Monday.
It will take weeks for the state to return to normal after being pummeled by a historic rainstorm. One of the immediate concerns is the shortage of potable water. In Columbia, as many as 40,000 homes do not have water service. The rest of the city’s 375,000 water customers have been told to boil water.