Beaufort avoids ‘dangerous’ weather; Mossy Oaks drainage system passes test

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By Mike McCombs

If any Beaufort County students had tests scheduled for Thursday afternoon, they got a reprieve, at least for a day, when the Beaufort County School District scheduled an early dismissal in anticipation of a dangerous weather system hitting the Lowcountry.

Beaufort itself got a reprieve, as well, when the system which was responsible for tornadoes and flooding across the Deep South left the area soggy but safe after heavy rains early Thursday evening.

But there was one big test Thursday evening, and the City of Beaufort passed with flying colors.

According to a release from Col. Neal Pugliese, USMC (Ret.), Chairman of the Mossy Oaks Multijurisdictional Drainage Task Force, “Beaufort received about 3 inches of rain in 55 minutes with the bulk of the rain falling within a 25-minute period, which is an astounding amount of water. Despite an enormous amount of water falling within a very short period of time, the new drainage system in Mossy Oaks operated as designed.”

According to Pugliese, the stormwater was gathered from more than 550 acres, directed to drainage ditches, and then moved to and through tidal gates at the Spanish Moss Trail via two major water outfalls. And everything worked like a charm.

At dawn on Wednesday, the National Weather Service’s Storm Prediction Center (SPC) had issued a rare “high risk” level warning for dangerous weather for parts of the Southeast.

The last such “high risk” warning by the SPC came in May 2019 when tornadoes ravaged the Midwest plains region. There had not been such a warning as early as March since 2012.

As of Wednesday night, the storm had already “generated several tornadoes across portions of the South,” according to AccuWeather.

The SPC said that the system had the potential to produce large, long-tracking tornadoes. Such tornadoes would be expected to cause widespread damage and be potentially quite dangerous at night when most people are sleeping. Power outages, flooding and dangerous winds were likely, as well.

Come Thursday afternoon into Thursday night, the severe weather threat was expected to shift into the Southeast and portions of the Middle Atlantic region. The primary risk in this region was tornadoes and straight-line, damaging wind gusts.

Beaufort County School District (BCSD) leaders trying to avert a bad situation decided Wednesday afternoon to dismiss schools early Thursday before the system reached the Lowcountry.

The Lowcountry dodged a bullet, however, when the system produced only heavy rain in the area.

Above: Beaufort Elementary School Principal Melissa Holland, far left, and Jamey Porter make sure their students stay together and get on the right bus during early dismissal on Thursday, March 18. Holland said of the 367 students registered at the school about a third are still virtual, leaving about 70 bus riders on any given day. Dangerous weather was forecast for Thursday afternoon prompting early dismissal for all Beaufort County Schools, including cancellation of high school athletic events. Photo by Bob Sofaly.