As September wrapped up, meteorologists warned that a series of developing weather systems could hit states in the south and east with enough rainfall to equal once-in-a-100-year averages.
A week later, they had done that and more.
In fact, around the time this “storm complex” finally died down around Oct. 7, many compared the rain that fell in some areas to a once-in-a-1,000-year event.
What exactly does that mean? For people living in parts of South Carolina, it meant dealing with around two feet of rain. (Mount Pleasant, in the southeast corner of the state, got 27 inches. Charleston saw about 20 inches.)
That was enough for Steven Pfaff of the National Weather Service to call the situation "phenomenal” as well as “dangerous.” Both of those words also describe the flooding that followed.
A couple of cases in point: the National Weather Service reported that 20 of its river forecast locations in South Carolina exceeded established flood stages at the height of this event. Also, 17 of the state’s minor dams failed due to the storm.
Those flooded rivers and failed dams flooded countless cars and homes. They impacted numerous roads and bridges too.
According to the Associated Press, for instance, flooding shut down more than 540 roads and bridges in South Carolina. Seventy of them remained off-limits as of early December.
Other Effects of the Storm
All of that water did more than close large numbers of roadways and bridges.
CNN reported while the storm was still raging that hundreds of South Carolinians had to be rescued due to the flooding. Also, at one point the state deployed eight swift water rescue teams, 11 aircraft, and some 600 National Guard members to help with those rescues and evacuations.
The rain prompted a slew of traffic problems too. Over 300 car accidents occurred on South Carolina roads in one 12-hour period. And more than 750 drivers needed some kind of roadside assistance during that same stretch.
The worst of this storm’s effects, however, is that it led to the death of at least 25 people. Nineteen of those people were from South Carolina, while the rest called Florida, New York, North Carolina, and Canada’s New Brunswick province home.
Brought to You By Three Different Weather Systems
What brought all of this precipitation to the Carolinas and other parts of the southeast? USA Today, among others, blamed it on an “unusual confluence” of weather events. Specifically, these three:
- A cold front that stalled near the east coast
- An unrelated low-pressure system that pulled tropical moisture into the region
- Hurricane Joaquin, which threatened that portion of the US in late September and early October
$2 Billion in Damage
Reinsurance broker Aon Benfield estimated in its October “Global Catastrophe Recap” report that the total economic losses tied to this event could top $2 billion.
It also said that insurers reported more than $400 million in payouts related to the storm so far.
How much more of that $2 billion tab will insurance companies pick up in the future? It’s too early to say, although Aon Benfield warned that South Carolinians probably will have to deal with a healthy percentage of it. "Based on current active National Flood Insurance Program policies in place, it is expected that most of the residential damage will not be covered by insurance.”
To put that comment in perspective: CNBC recently reported that though there are nearly 2.2 million housing units in South Carolina, flood insurance protects fewer than 200,000 of them. (Standard homeowners policies don’t cover flood damage or destruction. For more information, read our article about “Flood Insurance Basics.”)
Car Owners in a Better Position
If there’s a silver lining to all of this dreary news, it’s that some amount – maybe a large amount – of the claims associated with this storm are sure to be auto-related.
South Carolina Insurance Director Raymond Farmer said as much in the storm’s wake after sharing that thousands of vehicles were caught up in flood waters.
That’s a good thing because comprehensive auto insurance covers flood-related damage.
What about people who carry only liability or collision coverage? They’ll likely have to pay for repairs or replacements out of their own pockets.