CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCBD)- Hurricane Ian is bearing down on the Florida coast bringing heavy rain and life-threatening storm surge with it.

It has put most of Florida under a storm surge warning, meaning the storm could raise water levels above normal tides–in some places as high as 12 feet.

And as Ian is expected to set its sights on South Carolina next, several Lowcountry counties including Charleston and coastal Colleton, have been placed under a storm surge warning.

What is storm surge?

According to the National Hurricane Center, storm surge is defined as “an abnormal rise of water generated by a storm, over and above the predicted astronomical tides.”

Storm surge is a large dome of water often 50 to 100 miles wide that sweeps across the coastline where near a hurricane makes landfall. That dome, Storm Team 2 meteorologist Josh Marthers, explains is driven by wind and a change in atmospheric pressure.

“It’s created by a lowering of atmospheric pressure so essentially the air is not as heavy on the surface of the ocean as normal so the surface of the ocean rises and that water moves onshore with the storm itself.”

The surge of high water topped by the waves is devastating and the stronger the hurricane and the shallower the offshore water, the higher the surge will be.

What storm surge can the Charleston area expect?

Storm Team 2 predicts the Charleston metropolitan area could see water levels of about 2 to 4 feet above the ground in surge-prone areas, primarily along the coastline.

“That means somewhere within that storm surge area, there are going to be points along that coast where there could be as much as 2 to 4 feet of standing water above ground level,” Josh said.

However, timing is an important factor. Meteorologist Grace Lowe explains that high tide coupled with heavy rain and storm surge could majorly impact low-lying areas. High tide on Friday falls just after 11:40 a.m.

“With our high tide, we’re going to have two feet of standing water and that’s without rain and storm surge on the way,” she said.

National Weather Service

How can you protect your home against storm surge?

The combination of storm surges, battering waves, and high winds is dangerous and can cause great property damage.

The greatest impacts, according to Storm Team 2, will be in flood-prone areas like downtown Charleston, along the islands, and in tidal waterways.

“If you take on water during what we call sunny day flooding, you’re going to take on water in this,” Josh said.

Storm Surge Model (Storm Team 2)

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) notes that although homeowners cannot prevent storm surge, there are steps that can be taken to minimize damage and keep residents safe.

FEMA recommends homeowners take the following steps to protect their homes from storm surge.

  • Reinforce the garage door
  • Protect windows and doors; seal cracks and gaps
  • Secure objects outside the home
  • Trim or remove dead, damaged, or rotting trees and limbs
  • Store valuables and important documents on an upper floor

In flood-prone areas, sandbags can be used around doorways to prevent minor flood waters from entering homes.

As the Lowcountry prepares for Ian to hit, local officials have made sandbags and sand available to residents. You can find the full list of pickup locations here.

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