York, Chester and Lancaster counties could have as much as 15 inches of rain from late Friday through Monday in a potentially “life-threatening” flooding rain and wind event from Hurricane Florence, officials said.
The latest forecast shows up to 15 inches of rain as the storm track now is forecast to pass directly to the south of all three counties, said Lancaster County Emergency Management Director Darren Player.
The National Weather Service said flooding could be life-threatening because soils already saturated will not hold all the rain.
Player said “unprecedented” rainfall could cause flooding that lasts for weeks. A flash flood watch for all three counties was issued Thursday afternoon, meaning flooding is “likely,” weather officials said. The flood warning lasts through Tuesday.
The northern bands of the storm also bring the possibility of tornadoes inside the heaviest rain areas, officials said. Sustained winds and rain over days could topple trees and knock out power because ground already wet will become saturated and trees may come down, officials said.
Areas in York and Chester counties that have forecasts of up to 10 inches of rain could see more because rain bands carrying cells of rain could drop inches over hours, officials said.
Player, the Lancaster County emergency management director, said a late Thursday release from the weather service showed Florence weakening somewhat and rainfalls projected closer to 10 inches.
A weather service rainfall forecast map for South Carolina released late Thursday by Player showed bands of rain that stretch southeast to northwest and have different totals projected in York, Chester, and Lancaster counties. The map shows Rock Hill with a projected rainfall of 10.67 inches.
That band of between 10 and 12 inches includes eastern York County that includes the Town of Fort Mill, as well as Indian Land and almost all of Lancaster County, the map shows.
Bands to the west that cover eastern Chester County and central/northern York County including Lake Wylie show rains of between eight to 10 inches, according to the map. Western York County and western Chester County are in a band that shows around six to eight inches of rain, the map shows.
Emergency officials in York, Chester and Lancaster counties said flooding will happen across the region starting late Friday and could last for days.
“This is a rough and dangerous storm,” said Trent Faris, spokesperson for the York County Sheriff’s Office.
Friday night through Saturday is expected to have the potential for dangerous or deadly flooding near creeks and streams and places that have runoff. Rivers - the Catawba River borders all three counties and the Broad River borders two - also “may rise to flood stage,” weather officials said.
“Anyone near those waterways needs to be extra vigilant,” said York County Emergency Management Director Chuck Haynes. “Water is what takes lives.”
Florence was downgraded to a category 2 storm Thursday, but its forecast path shifted to slam through the middle of South Carolina with the most dangerous northern rain bands expected to hit York, Chester and Lancaster counties.
Florence, with tropical force winds, extends 200 miles from the center. Tropical force winds will go on from Friday through mid-day Saturday, Winds and rain are expected to continue through Saturday and into Sunday, Haynes said.
York County transportation officials are prepared to close roads that flood and issue detours, county officials said Thursday at a news conference.
“We are going to get a hit,” Haynes said. “We expect the rain and sustained winds to get here and sit here on top of us. People have to be ready.”
Even a small shift in the path of the storm center could mean a “direct impact” in York County, Haynes said.
Chester County officials have concern that past flooded areas could mean potential catastrophic flooding.
“It is going to flood in places where it has flooded before when we just have our normal summer storms,” said Chester County Emergency Management Director Eddie Murphy. “Our concern is people in poor health, the elderly, who can’t help themselves. We want to be ready to help them.”
Player, the Lancaster emergency management director, said unless people live in areas that previously flooded from far less rain, he is advising people shelter at home with adequate supplies.