There is an iconic book of the lowcountry - The Prince of Tides, by the late Pat Conroy. A man's struggle to overcome the trauma of his early life among the creek and marshes hereabouts. Similarly named, "King Tides" are also a feature of the lowcountry and are something we all have to struggle with, but they are easily understood. These are tides that occur on a monthly basis and are unusually high. They are a natural occurrence during which salt water from the ocean creeps up through creeks, old drains and waterways to fill our streets and slow the traffic. Most recently we experienced a King Tide on Monday of this week. Here is the lowdown on the "what," the "how" and the "why" ...
The term "King Tide" is a laymen term used to describe the highest seasonal tides that occur each year. For example, the average high tide in Charleston, SC is about 5.5 ft., whereas during a King Tide event high tide may reach 7 ft. or higher. These tides are typically caused when a spring tide (when the sun, moon, and earth align during a new and full moon, increasing tide ranges) coincides with the moon being closest to Earth in its monthly elliptical orbit.
Couple this with the fact that the moon is at its closest point to the earth since 1948 and we get a whopper of a King Tide, if such a term is allowable. It has brought the highest high water mark (HHWM) higher again by about 12 inches or so. Driving downtown this morning you could not help but notice that marsh grass had generally disappeared to be replaced by much wider Stono and Ashley Rivers. This is where a little local knowledge makes life so much easier.
Lockwood was blocked off so I took Calhoun. Calhoun was flooding at MUSC so turned down Halsey Boulevard. Dropped child No. 5 at Mason Prep then cut via Bull Street to Ashley Ave. to Broad Street. All dry land right down to 95 Broad and our offices. Lockwood Boulevard was blocked off by police south of Wentworth Street. Sporadic streets in Harleston Village were flooding with an annoying foot or so of sea water and Lord knows where else it was getting to. On the East Side, Reid St and Hanover Street were in some trouble as were a few others and upper East Bay was duck territory. Other suspects would be Water St., South of Broad, Market St. off East Bay plus Ashley Ave. north of the Crosstown and the aptly named Fishburne Street on the West Side. If you want accurate information on areas likely to flood have a look at the National Oceanographic data on this web site HERE. Either way, our buildings are prepared for this and water will go out again with the ebbing tide so no permanent harm done.
Where can you find out more information on lowcountry King Tides? As it happens, there is a really good web site for this that you can find HERE. Now, perspective is almost as useful as hindsight for understanding just how an event will affect us all. For King Tides, the ones we experienced this week are certainly a lot more benign than history has recorded. Water levels from October's Hurricane Matthew peaked at 9.3 feet above mean lower low water (MLLW) in Charleston Harbor. This reading has only been exceeded at the Charleston Harbor Tide Station twice since data collection began in 1899. The first was in August of 1940, when an unnamed Category 2 hurricane pushed water levels to 10.2 feet above MLLW. The second was in September 1989, when water levels from Hurricane Hugo reached 12.5 feet above MLLW. So a few detours now and then, and a wet lawn is certainly a lot better than what happened in October or in years running up to that.
P.S. Don't forget though to mark King Tide dates in your calendar and move your car to higher ground if you are prone to inundation. Your house will be fine in most circumstances but cars may not be so lucky.
Note: If you're thinking about living in Charleston (or already do and just want to know more) then a little local knowledge goes a long way! We're experts when it comes to the ins and outs of Charleston and the Tri-County Area, so let us know how we can help.
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