Worst Tornadoes In South Carolina: A Historical Analysis

June 2, 2024

The study of tornado climatology in South Carolina reveals significant insights into the frequency, seasonal patterns, and historical impact of these severe weather events in the state.

Annual Distribution of Tornadoes

Increase in Tornado Frequency Over Time

From 1950 to 2017, South Carolina experienced an average of 14 tornadoes per year. However, this number increased to an average of 26 tornadoes annually from 1990 to 2017. This increase is attributed to the implementation of the National Weather Service's advanced NEXRAD Doppler radar system, which enhanced the detection of tornadic vortex signatures.

Seasonal Distribution

South Carolina's tornado activity varies by season:

  • Spring: Tornadoes are often triggered by active cold fronts.
  • Summer/Early Fall: Tornado activity is frequently associated with tropical cyclones.
  • Late Fall: Tornadoes can also result from active cold fronts in November and December.

Tornado occurrences are minimal in October and January, indicating periods of relative calm.

Notable Tornado Events

Tropical Storm Frances (September 6-7, 2004)

This event set records by triggering 47 tornadoes, including 26 F0s, 17 F1s, 3 F2s, and 1 F3. On September 7 alone, 43 tornadoes were recorded. The storm caused widespread damage in the Low Country, Midlands, and Pee Dee regions.

Significant instances include:

  • Sumter County: An F2 tornado destroyed nine homes, damaged 55 homes, injured three people, and caused $1.7 million in damages.
  • Kershaw County: An F3 tornado demolished cinder block stables and displaced a large horse trailer onto a roof.

Overall, Tropical Storm Frances resulted in 13 injuries and $2.77 million in damage across the state.

"Record Breaking Tornadoes" by GDS Infographics is licensed under CC BY 2.0. To view a copy of this license, visit https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/.

Tropical Storm Beryl (August 16, 1994)

The remnants of Tropical Storm Beryl merged with a cold front, resulting in 22 tornadoes spreading across a band from Bamberg County through Lancaster and York Counties, including significant damage in the Town of Lexington's central business district. No deaths were reported, but there were 40 injuries, and the damages exceeded $50 million.

March 28, 1984

A narrow band of tornadoes from Anderson County through Marlboro County caused extensive damage valued at over $100 million. This event resulted in 15 deaths and 448 injuries, with additional storm-related fatalities recorded.

April 30, 1924

This historic tornado outbreak led to 77 deaths and 778 injuries, making it one of the deadliest in South Carolina's history. The tornadoes followed unusually long paths, with one traveling from Anderson County to York County and another devastating pathway from Aiken County to Florence County (135 miles). The destruction included 465 homes and numerous other buildings, resulting in millions of dollars in damages.

Tornadoes in South Carolina (Data Period: 1990-2017)

The data collected and reviewed by the Storm Prediction Center provides valuable insights into the trends, frequencies, and impacts of tornadoes across South Carolina. Leveraging such information assists in enhancing preparedness and response strategies, ultimately mitigating the adverse effects of future tornado events.

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