Lexington County, SC (Paul Kirby) – Lexington County survived a real Sunday Night Smack-Down as strong storms that had been building west of us all afternoon broke loose with abandon after dark, wreaking havoc right down the center of the county. For the most part, the path of its fury ran just to the southeast of I-20 doing its worst in the Round Hill and Red Bank communities before picking up and moving east.
The storm telegraphed its first punch early. The National Weather Service (NWS) was watching the storms closely as they moved east from Georgia. Around 4:00 p.m., they had already placed the West Columbia area under a tornado watch as the sky turned gray then black. Shortly after, heavy rain began moving into the western portion of the county. The next indication of things to come was a tornado warning after the NWS radar caught rotation to our west in the Newberry and Greenwood Counties areas. They placed northwest Lexington County under a tornado warning. This warning included Lake Murray’s banks and communities like Gilbert and Lexington. Shortly thereafter, another storm with rotation was spotted on radar west of Batesburg-Leesville and more warnings for Lexington County were issued between 6:30 and 7:00 p.m. Afterward, the warnings weren’t necessary as the activities of our first responders were an excellent indicator of exactly where the storm was travelling.
Calls began to come in to the Lexington County Communications Center (LCCC) minutes before 7:00 regarding power lines down near Two Notch and Brodie Roads just east of Batesburg-Leesville. A caller reported a possible funnel cloud in the area and the warnings from the NWS and the calls for emergency services began coming in a flurry. The fire service’s battalion chief over the region held his resources for the most part. An experienced commander, he was not being drawn into the fight prematurely. It was a good thing he did, because the first calls were just a light jab. The real brawl began when Red Bank was tornado warned and then quickly took one on the chin. After that, it really became a street fight!
Damage reports began to come in fast and furiously when high winds ripped into the convenience stores near Glassmaster Road and South Lake Drive. By the time the storm had reached this point, a large swatch of the area behind it had trees and power lines down across roads, and hundreds of homes in the dark. Utility crews began to flood the rear trying to get their systems back on-line and road crews started trying to clear some roads. As the real force of the storm fell west of, and directly on Red Bank, the fire commander unleashed his counter attack in full force moving resources into storm mode and personally taking over the response of units. The LCCC dispatched most of the calls to him and he moved the closest trucks to cover. After that, it was a slugfest with the storm doing its worst while firefighters, EMS personnel, and law enforcement rushed around to assess and mitigate damages where they could.
Red Bank Baptist Church had several large columns toppled that left the roof structure of the entrance unsupported in several places. Following the adage that lightning never strikes twice in the same place, the fire service’s battalion chief set up a field command post in the parking lot of that church and drew in other agency supervisors to coordinate their response to the calls.
Reports of trees down across roads came in on Community Drive, David Lane, and the Pin Oak Drive, all in Red Bank and east of South Lake Drive. During the height of the storm, trees went through the roofs of several homes making them uninhabitable. Several people who weren’t at home, or weren’t staying home, had car accidents in the area adding to the challenges. There were reports of trees on structures or heavy wind damage to buildings from Pin Oak Drive, A.C. Bouknight Road, Zenker Road, West Wood Drive, Dusty Lane, and others. For every damaged structure call, there were three more reporting power lines or trees down. A stalled tractor trailer truck began backing up I-20 west, and this had a long line of other vehicles sitting in the rain and wind as the rear of the storm rocked them in place. As 8:00 p.m. neared, the incident commander had his entire resources on attack, and it seemed as if the storm decided it had enough. It ran east, hopped over most of Pine Grove, Springdale, and West Columbia before hightailing it out of Lexington County.
As the storm left, damage assessments began, and utility crews worked to restore power to the more than 5,200 homes in Lexington County that were dark. Trees had to be cleared from the roads, and rain both heavy and then light fell throughout the night and into the early morning. Even as late as 3:00 a.m.,firefighters were still running the occasional power line down call as trees that had been damaged by the storm finally gave up and toppled. After 5:00 a.m., crews were still working to clear Muddy Springs Road of one of these.
Deputies, EMS crews, and firefighters must be tired but proud of the response they mounted when faced with a storm such as this. The coordinated actions of these men and women, coupled with the hard work of utility crews and SCDOT and Lexington County Public Works Crews, prevented a great deal more loss and misery as a new week came in behind the beast that tried to tear us down. As daylight approached Monday, Lexington County had some bumps and bruises, but we can certainly say of the storm, “Yeah, but you should have seen the other guy!” To all the crews who worked we should collectively say, well done folks, well done.