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Public Health Preparedness

Natural Threats to South Carolina

South Carolina is at risk for many natural threats including earthquakes, extreme heat, flooding, thunderstorms and lightning, tornadoes, wildfires and winter storms. The coastal region is also threatened by potential hurricanes and tropical storms from June 1-November 30 every year. These natural threats have the potential to disrupt public health services as well as directly affect your health. Many of these natural threats can be predicted, but there are some that cannot. Be sure to keep informed for potential severe weather events, have your emergency kit ready, and develop a family communication plan. For any current weather related warnings or alerts please visit or your local news station. More information regarding natural threats to South Carolina are below.


Earthquakes are characterized by a violent shaking of the earth that is caused by movement of the rock below the surface. South Carolina has several fault lines and there are as many as 10 to 30 earthquakes recorded annually. These earthquakes tend to be less than a magnitude of 3.0 on the Richter scale, and cause little or no damage. However in 1886, Charleston experienced a 7.3 magnitude earthquake which took about 60 lives, and caused structural damage to many buildings. Earthquakes are natural disasters that have little or no warning before they occur. After the initial earthquake there are usually aftershocks, which is another earthquake of similar or lesser magnitude that occurs after. The aftershocks can occur miles away from the epicenter. To prepare your house and workplace for an earthquake it is important to secure shelves, wall hangings, and appliances. The South Carolina Emergency Management Division has the South Carolina Earthquake Guide available for download on their website. This resource has information about the South Carolina fault lines, preparation for an earthquake and what to do during the event.

Extreme Heat

South Carolina is known for being warm during the summer months, but prolonged periods of extreme temperatures can cause health issues and even death. Preparing for summer weather in South Carolina is an important task each year. Monitor the weather announcements for longer periods of 95° or higher weather and adjust your schedule appropriately. Try to complete tasks outdoors in the morning or late evening hours when it is cooler, drink plenty of fluids, and get plenty of rest. Heat stroke and stress are serious conditions, and can be prevented. The signs and symptoms of heat illness may include: dizziness, nausea, headache, heavy sweating, no sweating, elevated body temperature, etc. The CDC has prepared a report Extreme Heat: A Prevention Guide to Promote Your Personal Health and Safety that has a full listing of symptoms and how to care for individuals showing signs of heat illness. It is also important to note that the older population (those 65 years and older) is at a greater risk to suffer from heat stress, so make sure to periodically check on your older relatives, friends, and neighbors. More information can be found in DHEC’s Bureau of Disease Control Fact Sheet: Heat Related Illness.


Flooding can occur rapidly or slowly overtime, and can either be a local flood that affects a neighborhood or community or large and affect multiple states. Flash flooding occur within a few minutes or hours of heavy rainfall or a dam or levee failure. Rising water can damage property, and cause death or illness. It is important during a flood to follow evacuation orders to move outside of the flood zone. If there is a flash flood leave immediately do not wait for instructions to move. Swift waters can make rescue difficult.

If you have to leave your home, remember these evacuation tips:

  • Do not walk through moving water. Six inches of moving water can make you fall. If you have to walk in water, walk where the water is not moving. Use a stick to check the firmness of the ground in front of you.
  • Do not drive into flooded areas. If floodwaters rise around your car, abandon the car and move to higher ground if you can do so safely. You and the vehicle can be swept away quickly.

Key terms:

  • Flood Watch - Flooding is possible. Tune in to NOAA Weather Radio, commercial radio or television for information.
  • Flash Flood Watch - Flash flooding is possible. Be prepared to move to higher ground; listen to NOAA Weather Radio, commercial radio or television for information.
  • Flood Warning - Flooding is occurring or will occur soon; if advised to evacuate, do so immediately.
  • Flash Flood Warning - A flash flood is occurring; seek higher ground on foot immediately.

Thunderstorms and Lightning

Thunderstorms are very common throughout most of the year in South Carolina. Thunderstorms can bring heavy rain, strong winds, hail, and even tornadoes. Every thunderstorm produces lightening, which can be deadly. A thunderstorm is classified as "severe" when it contains one or more of the following: hail an inch or greater, winds gusting in excess of 50 knots (57.5 mph), tornado. Lightning kills an average of 54 people per year in the United States. It also causes millions of dollars of damage to property and forests annually. Being outdoors during a thunderstorm puts you at risk of lightning strike. If you are outdoors, especially if you are under or near trees; in or on water; or on or near hilltops you should seek shelter inside a substantial building. Many of those who have died due to lightning strikes were enjoying a variety of outdoor leisure activities such as gardening, camping, golfing and swimming. More information can be found at the National Weather Service’s Lightning Safety website.

When listening to the news or weather radio you will hear alerts for either a severe thunderstorm watch or warning. For your convenience the definitions are below.

  • Severe Thunderstorm Watch - Tells you when and where severe thunderstorms are likely to occur. Watch the sky and stay tuned to NOAA Weather Radio, commercial radio or television for information.
  • Severe Thunderstorm Warning - Issued when severe weather has been reported by spotters or indicated by radar. Warnings indicate imminent danger to life and property to those in the path of the storm.


South Carolina averages 27 tornadoes per year, and peak tornado season is March through May. Most tornadoes are often spawned from severe thunderstorms, tropical storms or hurricanes. Alert systems have improved, but often there is very little time to prepare or shelter for tornadoes. Tornadoes may strike quickly, with little or no warning. Be alert for changing weather conditions.

Look for the following danger signs:

  • Dark, often greenish sky
  • Large hail
  • A large, dark, low-lying cloud (particularly if rotating)
  • Loud roar, similar to a freight train.
  • If you see approaching storms or any of the danger signs, be prepared to take shelter immediately.

Tornadoes can be very violent and deadly storms, it is important to listen to a NOAA weather radio or other commercial radio if tornado conditions have been predicted. Follow the directions of local officials. When listening to the news or weather radio you will hear alerts for either a tornado watch or warning. For your convenience the definitions are below.

  • Tornado Watch - Tornadoes are possible. Remain alert for approaching storms. Watch the sky and stay tuned to NOAA Weather Radio, commercial radio or television for information.
  • Tornado Warning - A tornado has been sighted or indicated by weather radar. Take shelter immediately.


In a typical year, South Carolina responds to over 5,000 wildfires, which burn nearly 30,000 acres. South Carolina's wildfire season usually occurs between late winter and early spring. Wildfires can be triggered by lightning, debris burning, arson, and accidents. If you see a wildfire, report it to 9-1-1 immediately by describing the location of the fire and answer any questions the dispatcher may have. You may have very little warning that you will need to evacuate, so make sure you have your emergency kit and communication plan in order. It is important to prepare your home for evacuation by removing any flammable material, (e.g. yard debris, wood, tarp covers and lawn furniture) from around your house. Prepare the inside of your home by removing flammable window coverings, closing all windows and vents, remove combustibles and shutting off the gas. Evacuate all people and pets, and be sure to take any valuables with you. More information

Winter Storms

South Carolina typically enjoys a mild winter, but winter storms can and do occur. Winter storms can bring colder temperatures, snow, sleet and ice. Most deaths from winter storms occur in traffic accidents due to slick roads and hypothermia due to exposure to colder temperatures. Make sure to watch the weather conditions, and minimize travel if a winter storm is predicted. You may want to have an emergency kit for your car if you plan to leave your house during a winter storm advisory.

During a winter storm you may lose power. It is important to remember to practice safe alternative heating of your home to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning. Carbon Monoxide poisoning can occur during winter storms as people try to heat their homes or run generators. Remember to use caution and follow these simple rules to maintain safety.

  • Never use a generator, grill, camp stove or other gasoline, propane, natural gas or charcoal¬ burning devices inside a home, garage, basement, crawlspace or any partially enclosed area. Locate unit away from doors, windows and vents that could allow carbon monoxide to come indoors.
  • Install carbon monoxide alarms in central locations on every level of your home and outside sleeping areas to provide early warning of accumulating carbon monoxide.

For additional information, contact:  (803) 898-3708