It felt strange, and somewhat irresponsible; leaving my family in Greenville for an out-of-town conference while a 1,000-year rain event was predicted for the Upstate. Thankfully only a fraction of the rain that had been expected fell – our region was spared the flooding and destruction seen in central and coastal South Carolina. As of Wednesday, 17 fatalities are being ascribed to the storm, with over 600 rescues conducted by the Department of Natural Resources. 13 dam failures in the state! Officially Greenville received 5.32 inches of rain while 8.23 inches, the most in the Upstate, were recorded in Laurens. Compare this to the 20” in Sumter (nearby Columbia only received 12.45”) and Mount Pleasant’s 27.15”!
|On the Ravenel bridge crossing over to Mt. Pleasant|
We had just left Mount Pleasant not even five days ago, on the eve of the harvest blood moon which was completely obscured by clouds. It rained a little on our trip, not enough to disrupt any of our plans but enough to result in the closure of a few roads, including completely submerging E Bay Street south of the Arthur Ravenel Bridge in Charleston. It’s hard to imagine what the area looks like now after a 20-fold increase in precipitation. Mount Pleasant might be best known as a gateway to popular beach resort Sullivan’s Island, but it also boasts several historic sites including Boone Hall Plantation & Gardens, Charles Pinckney NHS and Patriot’s Point. We stayed a night in the suburb, eating breakfast at the popular Page’s Okra Grill before our visit to the WWII aircraft carrier USS Yorktown museum, and crossed over the 8-lane Ravenel Bridge a multitude of times on our way into the city.
|Page's Okra Grill, Mt. Pleasant, SC|
The region has a long and storied history; it was in Mount Pleasant that a public meeting was held in 1860 that produced the first secession resolution of the state, and during the Civil War, Battery Guerry and an adjacent floating battery between Mount Pleasant and Sullivan's Island were instrumental in the defense of Fort Sumter. The Mount Pleasant Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1973, including the Hibben House, built in 1755. But there is also the legacy of storms; Mount Pleasant last saw such a mighty blow from Hurricane Hugo, a Category 4 hurricane that made landfall on September 21, 1989.
On our visit all was calm. We headed to the Mount Pleasant Memorial Waterfront Park to enjoy our lunch and afternoon after a morning at the naval museum. Called the crown jewel of Mount Pleasant, the space is located under the Ravenel Bridge: clever utilization of acreage that might otherwise be neglected. A wide expanse of lawn for sports & picnics and a nautical-themed playground are located adjacent to the parking lot, followed by the River Watch Café/Gift Shop and 1,250-foot long pier stretching out into the Cooper River. We found shelter from the drizzle in the playground under the bridge, having lunch at one of the picnic tables and enjoying our freedom after a long morning at the museum. With a pause in the rain we headed out on the pier, the boys enjoying an ice cream cone while I filmed a pod of dolphins in the river.
The views from the park and pier are phenomenal, as they are from most of the points overlooking the Charleston harbor. There is a great view of Patriot’s Point, Charleston and of course, the Ravenel Bridge. The pier is also utilized for fishing, and on our visit there were a slew of fishermen with lines cast. The Park is also home to the Sweetgrass Cultural Arts Pavilion, an educational opportunity on the art, heritage and tradition of Lowcountry basket-making. Surrounded by marshland it is clear that this is a region prone to flooding. Less obvious is the coastal importance in terms of floodwater alleviation to higher ground.
As the state recovers from the devastating storm there is no doubt questions will be asked and blame placed over the failed dams. However, we must look at the bigger picture. With global weather patterns changing these 1,000-year rain events are becoming 100-year events, and with the continued development of low-lying flood areas with impervious surfaces there is nowhere for this water to go. We go from drought conditions to 5 inches of rain back to drought because the water has run off the driveways and into the drainage ditches and catchment ponds of the Upstate – where it only gathers strength before flooding the rivers of our Lowcountry. The answer to these disasters is multi-faceted: action in terms of climate-change and emergency response coordination, but also floodplain restoration, and local infill ordinance. I join the rest of the state wishing those affected a quick recovery, but I also challenge each and every one of us to look beyond the great floods of 2015 to the future and what we can do now to be ready for the next time – because there will be a next time, and it might be the Upstate in the crosshairs.