Hurricane Isaias lumbered up the South Carolina coast Monday, bringing some wind and rain to the Charleston area but potential danger to the Grand Strand.
The Myrtle Beach area braced for storm surge and flooding ahead of the Category 1 hurricane’s expected landfall in southern North Carolina late Monday or early Tuesday.
Storm surge from Isaias has emerged as the biggest threat to the region, said Tim Armstrong, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service’s Wilmington, North Carolina office. By late Monday, Isaias brought the third-highest tide on record to the area.
At 9.89 feet, the tide was surpassed only by those during Hurricane Hugo in 1989 and Hurricane Matthew in 2016, Armstrong said.
While wind was still a concern, the highest winds are expected in southeastern North Carolina as the storm inches closer to its expected landfall in Brunswick County, he said.
The first named hurricane of the season, Isaias caused little panic for Charleston residents. Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, some locals even used the opportunity to venture out and see some unusual weather.
Residents, like Melissa Townsend, made their way to the Battery by walking around police barricades to watch the waves and wind of the strong storm that regained Category 1 hurricane status late in the day. Unlike many named storms that have forced locals to stay inside, many saw it as an excuse to leave their homes.
“We are a little stir crazy,” Townsend said. “It’s a different time now. It’s always uncertain, but we just wanted to get out of the house.”
And water sport enthusiasts like Daniel Bonthius, clad in a blue wetsuit and with a yellow inflatable kayak in tow, took to Folly Beach amid 50 mph wind gusts to catch waves.
People watched the ocean from balconies and searched for shells in Myrtle Beach ahead of Isaias.
John Combs was in his 10th-floor condo when he heard a bang outside. He thought it was just thunder, but when he looked out the window he saw the roof of Apache Pier being ripped off.
“We peeked out and you see it flapping in the wind,” Combs said.
Seeing the pier damaged like that was shocking for him and he quickly pulled out his camera to film the roof flapping in the heavy winds. Combs, from Columbia, typically comes to Myrtle Beach every time this year and has visited Apache Pier on numerous occasions.
“It was a surprise to see it,” Combs said. “You hope it doesn’t get any worse through that night.”
As far as Combs can tell, there was no way to secure the roof during the storm. Horry County Fire Rescue spokesperson Tony Casey said the department has not been contacted to assist Apache Pier.
Casey said there haven’t been any calls for assistance due to wind damage yet either.
Combs has never been in Myrtle Beach for a hurricane before, but figured he’d be safe on the 10th floor. At 9 p.m., he reported seeing water rushing up to the dunes and even reaching some beach chairs tied up by lifeguards earlier in the day.
Lifeguards held their posts until 5 p.m., the regular time for them to pack up for the day, blowing whistles when people tried swimming deeper than their ankles. The city issued double red flags to warn beachgoers of hazardous conditions and to stay out of the ocean.
“Honestly, it’s relaxing,” said Dara Applebaum, a lifeguard on the southern end of Myrtle Beach.
She said although there were significantly fewer people on the beach Monday, things “should be back to normal” Tuesday.
Rain and wind began to pick up about 4:30 p.m. in the Grand Strand as Isaias approached the area.
The threat for coastal flooding in the Charleston area “diminished considerably” Monday evening, the National Weather Service said. Tide levels in the Charleston Harbor were not expected to reach a dangerous level.
As of 11 p.m., the storm was about 25 miles east northeast of Myrtle Beach, according to the National Hurricane Center. Its winds were 85 mph.
“The center of Isaias will make landfall in southern North Carolina during the next hour or two, then move across eastern North Carolina for the rest of the night,” the Hurricane Center said.
A storm surge warning was in effect from the South Santee River through Cape Fear, the Hurricane Center said.
Although authorities issued a tropical storm warning for coastal portions of the Lowcountry, the area didn’t suffer a direct hit.
In Charleston, city officials gave Mayor John Tecklenburg authorization to impose a curfew, but he instead urged residents to stay off the road and at home after 6 p.m. Charleston County closed its buildings by 1 p.m. Monday and county beaches and parks were closing at 3 p.m.
“We’re thankful that we appear to have avoided the worst of Isaias’s impacts here in Charleston, and praying for all those still in its path,” Tecklenburg said. “I’d like to thank our citizens for their cooperation and patience as the storm approached, and our outstanding city staff for all their efforts to prepare our city in a responsible, socially-distanced manner — efforts that will serve us well the next time severe weather is headed our way.”
Residents and visitors were relatively calm as Isaias whipped rain and wind on the Lowcountry.
Tyler Mynatt was licking a scoop of butter pecan ice cream under the awning of Snapper Jacks Seafood & Raw Bar on Folly Beach as 50 mph gusts of wind and rain whipped the island.
He didn’t travel all the way from Knoxville, Tenn., for nothing. He’s still on vacation. He just wished his timing was better.
“We didn’t really watch the news before coming here,” Mynatt admitted. “It feels weird to be here during a hurricane.”
He didn’t plan to cut his stay short, just his day trip to the beach.
August is seasonally early for a hurricane. John Johnson, the manager at East Bay True Value Hardware, has seen the storm season creep up earlier every year.
He said he buys sandbags, sand and other preparation materials way in advance of the full season, and the supplies seem to inch their way on the annual order list.
But Monday’s storm was unusual. People didn’t seem concerned.
“It has been very slow today for us, usually we’re slammed before a hurricane,” Johnson said. “Everybody seems worried about other things going on besides the storm.”
Charleston is no stranger to chaos pumped from the tropics. In the past 170 years, at least 188 tropical storms have come within 100 miles of Charleston, with Isaias as the latest.
Monday’s storm marked the sixth year in a row that one had affected the Lowcountry. As the world’s atmosphere and oceans rapidly warm, tropical storms form sooner and later in the season.
A typical hurricane season has 12 named storms. Isaias was the ninth of 2020, and the earliest “I” storm on record. Eric Blake, a senior hurricane specialist at the National Hurricane Center, called the season “absurd.” Our 9th storm typically arrives in late September. He tweeted: “Don’t let anyone tell you this is normal.”
But for many South Carolina residents, nothing seems normal in 2020. Amid a global pandemic that is the Palmetto State, a hurricane seemed to be, in the moment, the least of their worries.
In Myrtle Beach, Red Hot Shoppe owner Bob Mills began boarding up his Ocean Boulevard store around 6 p.m. Monday but ended up boarding up only half of his shop due to oncoming rain. The business was one of few on the Boulevard with boards across the windows.
“Everybody’s not really scared of it,” he said.
During daylight hours Monday, overcast weather and light rain did not keep beachgoers from visiting the ocean in Myrtle Beach. Many beachwear stores and restaurants remained open along Kings Highway and Ocean Boulevard despite the approaching storm.
Red Hot Shoppe owner Bob Mills began boarding up his Ocean Boulevard store around 6 p.m. Monday, but ended up boarding up only half of his shop due to oncoming rain.
“Everybody’s not really scared of it,” he said.
The business was one of few on the Boulevard with boards across the windows.
Mikaela Porter, Hannah Strong, Tony Bartelme, Nick Masuda, Tyler Fleming and Shamira McCray contributed to this report.