Charleston’s wet winter has begun. Here’s why, and what it means for coming months.

Post and Courier
December 26, 2023

By Toby Cox

According to the National Weather Service, downtown Charleston typically sees 2.41 inches of rain in December. This year, the city has seen 5.18 inches as of Dec. 25, with additional rain forecast through the end of the month and into the new year.

“We have this system that is still ongoing,” NWS meteorologist Neil Dixon said. “We’ll pick up another half inch to an inch of rain from it, and then it looks like we’ll have another storm system develop early next week (Jan. 1 and Jan. 2).”

Winter months in Charleston are typically drier, and these wetter conditions are linked to El Niño, Dixon said. El Niño is a naturally occurring climate pattern influenced by warming waters in the Pacific Ocean. In the Southeast, this means more precipitation.

“Basically, every five to seven days, we have another storm system,” Dixon said.

Charleston will likely continue to experience above-normal rainfall through the winter and into spring, according to the weather service’s Climate Prediction Center.

A wetter winter means greater flood risks, but lower drought and wildfire risks in the spring.

Impacts on businesses

Although the city of Charleston reported only minimal damage in its initial assessment of the Dec. 17 nor’easter, repeat flooding can be overwhelming to business owners.

Kate Moon said her business on the peninsula has flooded twice in the last five months, first from Tropical Storm Idalia and then from the Dec. 17 nor’easter.

“I can’t stay up every night when rain’s coming, worrying about my business, that’s just not right,” she said, adding that the property doesn’t have a history of flooding.

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Moon says she’ll have to close her studio down again, and although insurance will cover the costs of repair, it will not cover the loss of revenue.

“I can’t conduct business, but that doesn’t mean my loan repayments stop,” she said.

Frank Knapp Jr., president of South Carolina Small Business Chamber of Commerce, said repeat flooding hits small businesses the hardest, especially those in the Market downtown.

“The persistent flooding completely shuts down business,” Knapp said, adding that the costs of repair to storefronts, increases in insurance premiums and flood-discouraged customers put financial strains on small businesses.

“Locally owned small businesses operate on a small profit margin, and every day they lose business or have higher expenses due to flooding increases the likelihood that they will fail,” he said.

Less drought, wildfire risk

Because Charleston experienced a drier-than-normal fall in 2023, the area was on the verge of drought, Dixon said. The heavier-than-normal rainfall projected for the rest of the winter has removed concerns of drought and may reduce wildfire threats for the region.

“Droughts definitely have an agricultural impact, but also the fire weather season coming in spring is usually pretty active,” Dixon said. “Above-normal rainfall maybe will lead to less wildfire as we get into the spring months before things start to green up.”

It is too soon to tell how a wetter winter, and potentially wetter spring, will impact the rest of 2024, including next year’s hurricane season.


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