Six score and two years ago, rockets alerted residents to incoming hurricanes

Six score and two years ago, rockets alerted residents to incoming hurricanes
Historical map of the October 1893 storm that left 15 South Strand residents dead. (Source: NWS Wilmington)
Historical map of the October 1893 storm that left 15 South Strand residents dead. (Source: NWS Wilmington)
Excerpt from the Georgetown Semi-Weekly Times detailing the government's hurricane alert system. (Source: Georgetown County Digital Library)
Excerpt from the Georgetown Semi-Weekly Times detailing the government's hurricane alert system. (Source: Georgetown County Digital Library)

GEORGETOWN, SC (WMBF) – In an age of weather alerts on smartphones, tweets from around the globe, and continuous weather coverage, it's hard to imagine how coastal residents of the past were kept informed about hurricanes and other dangerous weather.

In the 1890s, it was rockets, not push alerts or texts, that alerted Georgetown residents to approaching hurricanes.

A fascinating excerpt from The Georgetown Semi-Weekly Times from August 7, 1895 shared on the Facebook page for the Georgetown County Digital Library explains how this early warning system worked:

"Three rockets will be fired off at night upon receiving news of approaching hurricane; one at 9 o'clock, P.M., one at 9-15, and one at 9-30.

The article continues:

"By the above it will be seen that the Government is going to do everything within its power to give timely notice of the approach of tropical storm. Now it behooves the rice planters, residents of various islands, and all others interested, to post themselves thoroughly as to these signals, and any information desired will be cheerfully furnished by Mr. W. T. Turbeville, who is in charge of this station."

One storm from this era, on October 13, 1893, caused untold damage to the South Strand and claimed 15 lives, according to the Extra edition of The Georgetown Times from the next day. The headline read: "Magnolia Swept Away! 15 Lives Lost During Friday's Storm – Lives and Property Swept Away Like Chaff Before The Wind."

According to the South Carolina State Climatology Office, the storm made landfall near Charleston as a Category 1 storm, then moved north-northeast.

This storm came weeks after what was known as the Sea Islands Hurricane in August 1893, which hit Charleston directly and brought near-starvation to thousands, but caused just slight loss of life and property in the city, according to an article from the Preservation Society of Charleston.

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