Ian downgraded, expected to weaken to tropical storm; Sumter, Clarendon, Lee counties still in pathway


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Empty grocery shelves, event cancellations or postponements and full gas tanks were just a few of many preparation responses as Hurricane Ian was upgraded to a Category 5 storm Wednesday morning.

At 10 a.m. Wednesday, the South Carolina Emergency Management Division announced that Tropical Storm Ian was a Category 5 Hurricane, the highest-category hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind scale.

Its strength was downgraded to a Category 4 a few hours later Wednesday afternoon.

South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster held a briefing that afternoon, where state officials announced Hurricane Ian made landfall in Florida about 3 p.m. as a Category 4 hurricane with winds at 150 mph.

Officials said Ian was traveling northeast at 10 mph. As it travels closer to South Carolina, it is expected to weaken to a tropical storm but maintain its strength with strong winds and storm surges.

At this time, a state of emergency plan has been activated for South Carolina, and there are no state mandatory evacuations or closures in place.

Sumter, Clarendon and Lee counties are under a tropical storm watch, according to the National Weather Service in Columbia. Ian was about 490 miles south of Columbia with a storm intensity of 140 mph as of Wednesday evening.

Today, the high will be 70 degrees, and it will be breezy in Sumter and Lee counties, with a 20% chance of showers for Clarendon County. Thursday night, the rain is expected to pick up, and the low will be 57 degrees.

On Friday, tropical storm conditions are expected to begin. The high will be about 67 degrees and the low about 61 degrees. Residents can expect tropical storm-force winds between 30 to 40 mph, and gusts of wind at 45 mph. Winds are expected to pick up Friday afternoon and continue until early Saturday morning. Potential rainfall is expected to be between 3 to 6 inches.

Along with heavy rainfall and storm-force winds, flash flooding could affect areas prone to flooding, especially Friday and moving into Friday night.

The Sumter Item contacted Sumter County Emergency Management Director Donna Dew on Wednesday evening several times for more information on the local agency's response and preparation plans, but there was no response.

Earlier Wednesday, Dew said the local emergency management team was expecting Ian's strength to increase overnight Tuesday.

Her most recent update was that the county was preparing to lower the water levels at Booths Farm, Swan Lake Iris Gardens and Second Mill, anticipating heavy rain. Dew also said the city and county were cleaning drains of debris in preparation for the rain.

For South Carolina, Ian is predicted to produce heavy rain, storm surges, gusty winds, flash flooding and coastal flooding, along with isolated tornadoes. These impacts are not expected to be isolated to the coast, SCEMD said.

Coastal flooding and surge could begin as early as today with the other weather impacts beginning tonight and continuing through Saturday.