Flooding in South Carolina
On this page you learn what types of flooding are typical in South Carolina and how do you protect yourself, your family and your home. You will also find out more about significant South Carolina floods. Finally, you'll find links to NWS offices that provide forecast and safety information for South Carolina, as well as links to our partners who play a significant role in keeping you safe.
|Significant South Carolina Floods
The Great Pacolet Flood of 1903
The greatest loss of life from river flooding from the present back into the 20th century occurred along the Pacolet River near the town of Pacolet. The Pacolet River is a tributary to the Broad River. On the June 5, 1903 an area of low pressure tracked north-northeast across Alabama, Georgia and western South Carolina. By the early morning of June 6, the area of low pressure was centered over western North Carolina and had intensified considerably. Strong convergence and upslope flow produced heavy rainfall amounts across the upstate of South Carolina. The nearest official station measuring rainfall was Spartanburg, SC, where 5 inches of rain fell during the 24 hour period ending at 8 am on the 6th. The heavy rainfall combined with recent heavy rains that had produced wet soils set the stage for a catastrophic flood event.
The flood waters drowned at least 65 people with some accounts as high as 80, while many more were swept away but somehow managed to survive. The damage cost in 1903 was estimated to be $5 million, which converted to today would be closer to $125 million. Here is a list of some of the damage associated with the flood:
The Southern Railway Bridge over the Pacolet River near Clifton, SC, was sept away. The bridge was anchored on 45 foot high granite piers. The Southern Railway Bridge across the Tyger River near Greer, SC, was crushed in to a mangled pile of steel. The high railroad bridge across the Seneca River was destroyed.
A cluster of textile mills along the river were hit hard by the flood. The Clifton Mill No. 1 and Pacolet Mill No. 1 and 1 were destroyed.
- There was a complete loss of corn and flour mills, dwellings, churches and businesses along the river. According to the Monthly Weather Review of 1903, “so quickly did the water rise that the area near the river was covered by 40 feet of water within an hour. The river along the mill at the town of Pacolet was normally less than 6 ft. deep. However, the crest on the morning of June 6th reached about 50 ft.
The June 8, 1903, Spartanburg Herald
told of people floating by “would-be rescuers” only to be carried to a watery grave. It told of a man scantily attired in night clothes who sat for more than 6 hours in a tree before being rescued.
Photo courtesy of Pacoletmemories.com
Photo courtesy of “A Pictorial History of Clifton, South Carolina” by Michael Hembree and David Moore
Photo courtesy of Converse College, the Spartanburg County Regional Museum
The Record Flood of 1908
Intense rains occurred across the Palmetto State from September 26–30, 1908. An area of low pressure developed in the Gulf of Mexico on September 20 and strengthened as it moved northeast and off the North Carolina coast by the morning of the 27th. The heavy rainfall, which lasted over 48 hours, caused the most extensive flood event on record, when all major rivers in the state rose from 9 to 22 feet above flood stage. Anderson, SC, received 12 inches of rainfall in 24 hours. Most of the rain fell in less than 16 hours. The intensity of the rainfall resulted in several floods having recurrence intervals of greater than 50 years. Over 80 percent of the state was affected by flooding. In a paper written by Linda Horton about the event in 2008, she chronicles some of the highlights of the destruction and loss of life:
- Railroad traffic is at a standstill
- Bridges are carried away
- Five persons lose their life in Camden when Steel Bridge, a toll bridge, across the Wateree River was destroyed
- The crops along the rivers and creeks near Camden are a total loss.
- Five large dams in the neighborhood of Camden broke
- The Southern Railway trestle below Camden was under water.
- Unprecedented rainfall continues and all of Spartanburg is under water and the loss of property is incalculable
- Wateree River bridges washing away at Camden, SC. There were a number of people on the bridge and some were rescued in trees and on rafts.
- Great damage in the Piedmont of the state forcing power plants to close down, cutting off the power to a number of cotton mills, electric light plants and other enterprises.
- A train on the Charleston and Western Carolina Railway ran into a washout and the engine was ditched.
- In Spartanburg, bridges and dams are being washed away. The city is without gas, electric light or power.
Below are images of some of the flooding along the Congaree River at Columbia, SC. The river crested at 39.8 feet on August 27, 1908. The flood stage at Columbia was 19.0 feet.
Photo courtesy of Richland County Library Archives
Photo Courtesy of Richland County Library Archives
8 AM Surface Weather Map on August 26th
8 AM Surface Weather Map on August 27th
The Southeast Hurricane of 1940
The Southeast Hurricane of 1940 came ashore near Beaufort, SC, on Augusta 11, 1940 with winds of 105 mph. Flooding occurred across the state from the 11th through the 19th.
The storm moved inland in a northwesterly direction. Rainfall totals of 7 to 12 inches were recorded in the southern and northwestern sections of the state. The largest 24 hour rainfall total was 10.84 inches recorded near Beaufort. The greatest rainfall amount for the event was 22.49 inches in the town of Long Creek. The number of those killed is still in dispute, but between 30 and 50 people lost their lives due to the storm surge and fresh water flooding.
Early press reports said that 35 were dead. According to the Monthly Weather Review, the deaths were low because of hurricane warnings and evacuations; however, modern sources indicate that 40 people died during this storm. Property and crop damage was estimated to be $10 million ($160 million in 2013). The flooding from this hurricane was the greatest on record at the time for the North Pacolet River at Fingerville. The recurrence intervals at this site and on the Broad River near Carlisle were greater than 100 years.
Track of Southeast Hurricane of 1940, Image courtesy of SC State Climate Office
Total rainfall map of the event across the area
The Homestead Hurricane of 1945
The flooding that occurred from September 17-23, 1945 was produced by heavy rainfall associated with the ninth tropical storm of the season, which was also the most intense. The hurricane originally made landfall near Homestead, FL, but moved north through Florida then off the coast near Jacksonville. The tropical storm then came ashore near Hilton Head Island and moved northward through eastern South Carolina. All of the rivers in the state, except the Saluda River, exceeded flood stage during the second half of the month. The Great Pee Dee River at Cheraw reached 49.4 feet, the highest reading ever recorded up to that time. Flood stage at Cheraw is 30 feet. The Lynches River at Effingham recorded its largest flood on record. The river crested at 21.2 feet on the September 22, 1945. Flood stage at Effingham is 14.0 feet. There was 1 death attributed to the flooding with a loss of property and crops at nearly $7 million. In today's dollars that would approximately total $88 million.
Track of the Homestead Hurricane of 1945
Tropical Depression Klaus & Tropical Storm Marco of 1990
The flooding that occurred during October 10-13 and October 22, 1990, was the result of the remnants of Hurricane Klaus, Tropical Storm Marco and their northward movement and interaction along a stalled frontal boundary.
The event produced major flooding across the state, especially central South Carolina. There were 5 deaths blamed on the flooding. The flooding caused 4 deaths in Kershaw County, when a dam burst, sending water across a road trapping the people in their vehicle. Another death occurred in Spartanburg County when a toddler drowned in a rain-swollen creek. In the Pee Dee and Santee River Basins, the floods washed out or caused the closing of more than 120 bridges on secondary road systems. There were 17 earthen dams that failed and 81 that were damaged from overtopping. The government declared 13 counties Federal Disaster Areas. The total damage of property and crops was around $12 million ($22 million in 2013 dollars).
Rainfall totals were excessive, including one unofficial report of nearly 17 inches in the town of Rembert. These rainfall totals were some of the highest recorded in 100 years. Here are some official rainfall totals during the 4 day event:
Pageland, 13.96 inches
Clarks Hill, 10.80 inches
Kershaw, 9.85 inches
Orangeburg, 9.99 inches
Camden, 9.62 inches
Spartanburg, 8.40 inches
McCormick, 8.25 inches
Aiken, 8.00 inches
Edgefield, 6.57 inches
Greenwood, 4.85 inches
Catawba, 4.36 inches
Several rivers and streams in the Pee Dee and Santee River Basins recorded discharge recurrence intervals of greater than 100 years including the Black Creek at McBee, Black Creek near Hartsville, Fork Creek near Jefferson, Scape Ore Swamp near Bishopville, and Antley Spring Branch at Southern Railroad near St. Matthews.
Rainfall Total Map for Tropical Storm Marco & the remnants of Klaus from October 8th-14th, 1990
Track of Hurricane Klaus
Track of Tropical Storm Marco
Property Damage Map across South Carolina
Flash flooding is a rapid and extreme flow of high water into a normally dry area, or a rapid water level rise in a stream or creek above a predetermined flood level, beginning within 6 hours of the causative event (i.e., intense rainfall, dam failure, ice jam). More information...
River flooding occurs when river levels rise and overflow their banks or the edges of their main channel and inundate areas that are normally dry. More information...
Tropical Systems and Coastal Flooding
Wildfires burn away the vegetation of an area, leaving behind bare ground that tends to repel water. When rain falls, it runs off a burn scar towards a low lying area, sometimes carrying branches, soil and other debris along with it. Without vegetation to hold the soil in place, flooding can produce mud and debris flows. More information...
Dam Breaks/Levee Failure
A break or failure can occur with little to no warning. Most often they are caused by water overtopping the structure, excessive seepage through the surrounding ground, or a structural failure. More information...
Flooding due to snowmelt most often occurs in the spring when rapidly warming temperatures quickly melt the snow. The water runs off the already saturated ground into nearby streams and rivers, causing them to rapidly rise and, in some cases, overflow their banks.More information...
A back-up of water into surrounding areas can occur when a river or stream is blocked by a build-up of ice or other debris. Debris Jam: A back-up of water into surrounding areas can occur when a river or stream is blocked by a build-up of debris. More information...
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Covering South Carolina