BY WADE LIVINGSTON
Another holiday weekend, another tropical storm.
As Labor Day nears, residents of and visitors to Beaufort County have their eyes on the tropics — and might be having flashbacks to Tropical Storm Bonnie, which soaked the Lowcountry during the Memorial Day weekend.
There’s hope this time around, though.
Forecasters at the National Weather Service’s Charleston station say the majority of the weekend could be dry.
As the holiday approaches, here are three things you should know.
Timing is everything
Despite the optimistic forecast, some travelers are canceling hotel reservations.
“It’s a mixed bag here in Beaufort,” Robb Wells, of the Beaufort Regional Chamber of Commerce, said Wednesday morning. Some hotels had seen cancellations while others have not. If the storm stalls and fails to push through the county before the weekend, he said, there would be more cancellations.
“Occupancy is a little lower than we would have hoped for Labor Day weekend,” said Stacy Price, general manager of the Beaufort Inn.
The storm is impacting some people’s decision to travel, she said, referencing a call she’d received Wednesday morning from a Florida woman who decided to cancel her reservation. Price said she expected to see several more cancellations. Still, as in years past, there’s a wedding taking place at the inn.
Rooms are still available for Friday, Saturday and Sunday, Price said.
The Sonesta Resort Hilton Head Island has been getting calls about the weather and had a few cancellations earlier this week.
“Less than five,” Chris Bracken, the resort’s director of sales and marketing, said Wednesday. The resort’s 340 rooms are about 90 percent booked.
“We’re exactly where we were last year, and then we sell out for the weekend,” he said.
The Hilton Head Island-Bluffton Chamber of Commerce will monitor the forecast and send out real-time images of the island through social media, chamber spokesperson Charlie Clark said.
“Weather this weekend is expected to be good (after the storm passes), and we want to make sure visitors and potential visitors are aware of that,” she said.
The island should be busy this weekend, she said, adding that the chamber had not received any calls about weather concerns and hotel cancellations.
Slump at the pump?
Labor Day gas prices are six cents lower than they were this time last year, and the lowest they’ve been since 2005.
The average price per gallon in the Palmetto State is $1.96, according to AAA of the Carolinas.
The organization estimates 460,000 South Carolinians will travel 50 miles or more during the holiday weekend — and most will drive to their destinations. AAA spokesperson Tiffany Wright said most folks — barring the declaration of a state of emergency — tend to stick to their travel plans. But the wet weather, she said, could increase the amount of traffic and congestion on the road.
If the storm intensifies, travelers could see a spike at the pump.
Gas prices have been steadily rising ahead of the holiday, she said Wednesday. “Add a tropical storm to the mix and a disruption in production, and you’re going to see them go up.”
“It wouldn’t be out of the norm to see them go up five to 10 cents overnight, depending on the strength of the storm.”
Tropical Storm Hermine was named Wednesday afternoon.
The good news? The storm is forecast to be out of our area by late Friday or early Saturday, according to the weather service’s James Carpenter.
The bad news?
It appears to be slowing down.
A slower moving storm means more rainfall — on the higher end of the four- to six-inch storm total that’s being forecast. Wind gusts of 45 to 55 miles per hour are possible. Storm surges of one to two feet are possible. The rough seas, Carpenter said, will likely prompt small craft advisories for boaters on Thursday and Friday.
“I would certainly hope today, tomorrow, Friday, that nobody’s out in a boat,” Shore Beach Service Operations Manager Mike Wagner said. “That would not be advisable.”
Conditions are favorable for rip currents, Wagner said, even though they don’t often occur around Hilton Head. He didn’t anticipate the island’s beaches closing but said caution flags would remain in place.
Swimmers should take extra care, he said, and people who don’t know how to swim shouldn’t get in the water at all.
As of Wednesday morning, Saturday was forecast to be drier, and there was just a 20 percent chance of rain Sunday and Monday.
Another silver lining?
Tropical storms are “heat engines” that “feed on heat and humidity in the atmosphere.” In their wake, they often leave cooler temperatures and less humidity.
Wade Livingston: 843-706-8153, @WadeGLivingston
BONUS FOR BOATERS
The event makes its Labor Day Weekend debut after outgrowing the Beaufort Water Festival.
Dragonboating originated in China and involves 20 rowers (and a drummer in the bow) who paddle a narrow, 42-foot-long boat.
Last year’s races attracted about 700 paddlers on 32 teams and thousands of spectators to the Beaufort seawall.
Organizers have pushed back the race start time to 9:30 a.m. Saturday because of the storm. The race will take place at Henry C. Chambers Waterfront Park.
A decision will be made soon about Friday’s concert, the DragonBoat Beaufort Boogaloo, which is currently scheduled for 6 p.m. to 9 p.m..
The event raises funds for DragonBoat Beaufort’s cancer survivor teams and local outreach programs for cancer-survivor-focused grants, support and counseling.
For more information: www.dragonboatraceday.com or call 843-473-4477.
S.C. Department of Natural Resources courtesy inspections
SCDNR boating safety and enforcement officers will perform quick but thorough inspections for required safety equipment and proper boat and motor registrations.
Those who are not in compliance with safety regulations or registration requirements will not be ticketed and will be given an opportunity to correct the problem before they launch.
Officers will be at Cross Island Landing on the Broad River from 10 a.m. to noon Sunday.
To report boating violations such as reckless operation or an intoxicated boat operator, call the SCDNR 24-hour hotline at 1-800-922-5431 or dial #DNR on your cellphone.
For a copy of South Carolina’s boating regulations, to find out about local boating safety courses, or to obtain a free float plan form, contact the SCDNR boating safety office at 1-800-277-4301 or visit www.dnr.sc.gov/education/boated.html.
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