Isaias arrived in South Carolina with a lot of rain but little worry and anticipation in Charleston.
The first named hurricane of the season was expected to make landfall in the Myrtle Beach area on Monday night, but it caused little panic earlier for Holy City residents. And, amid the COVID-19 pandemic, some locals even used the opportunity to leave their homes 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.
Meteorologists predicted Isaias would stay relatively weak even as a potential Category 1 hurricane once hitting land area.
People watched the ocean from balconies and searched for shells in Myrtle Beach ahead of Isaias.
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 though there were significantly less 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 storm is expected to move through the region quickly, dumping up to four inches of rain.
The threat for coastal flooding in the Charleston area “diminished considerably” Monday evening, the National Weather Service said. The storm surge warning is still in effect, but tide levels in the Charleston Harbor are not expected to reach a dangerous level.
As of 8 p.m., the storm was about 60 miles east of Charleston and 60 miles southeast of Myrtle Beach, according to the National Hurricane Center. Its winds were 75 mph.
“The center of Isaias will approach the coasts of northeastern South Carolina and southern North Carolina within the hurricane warning area during the next few hours,” the Hurricane Center said.
A storm surge warning was in effect from Folly Beach through Cape Fear, the Hurricane Center said.
Shortly after 8 p.m. the National Weather Service said the tide in Charleston Harbor exceeded 7 feet — the threshold for minor flooding.
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.
But 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.
But 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.
Mikaela Porter, Hannah Strong, Tony Bartelme, Shamira McCray and Gregory Yee contributed to this report.
Reach Sara Coello at 843-937-5705 and follow her on Twitter @smlcoello.