So there you are, driving from West Ashley back to the peninsula after grabbing a bite to eat at Triangle Char & Bar, and you're minding your own business, adjusting your air conditioning and flipping through radio stations in search of a Justin Bieber song, that one you secretly like, when you're forced to stop shortly after turning onto Lockwood. Because that intersection at Hagood and Lockwood isn't an intersection any more. It's a lake. Let's call it Lake Citadel Football Stadium. Looks like you're going to have a little more time to find that top 40 hit.
They don't call it the Lowcountry for nothing: Charleston sits below sea level, and that means when it rains, the Holy City's streets turn into canals.
Now, former CP staffer Derek Judson is by no means a flooding safety expert. But he once lost his car to a massive puddle, so he knows a thing or two about the situation.
Judson found himself in a pickle a year ago when leaving our Morrison Drive office late at night after a downpour. He was driving west on Isabella Street when he hit a flood. He had a few choices: stop and back out, go straight and push through, or turn left on Nassau. He turned left.
The water came up onto his windshield and started coming into the car through the floor. All four wheels were off the ground. The car engine started sucking water into the air intake, shutting off his car. Judson had to valiantly escape through the sunroof.
He then pushed the car out of the puddle by hand, but not before having to get back in the car — again through the sunroof — and adjust the wheels, which otherwise would have turned him onto the road's shoulder. He was helped by a couple of guys in the neighborhood back to the office.
In hindsight, he wonders if he could have made it through the flood, up Isabella to Meeting Street. "That section might have flooded my car anyway, but I might have powered through," he said. "This time I thought I'd turn left and see what happened, and what happened was I totaled my car."
His garage told him that insurance companies will total flooded cars rather than having to deal with the headache. After all, who knows what will break months later because of the water damage you experience today. "It's a case of the never-ending claim," Judson says.
He was told that if water gets into the air intake valve, which pulls air into the engine, the valve basically acts like a wet vac and sucks that water inside instead. Then the water expands and savages your engine from the interior. You might get lucky, but chances are you're screwed.
"If you find you're getting into a flood, the conventional wisdom I've always heard is to drive through it at a slow pace, but keep moving forward," Judson says. "The only thing you've got to worry about is if the water gets over your headlights and onto the hood, because that's when it can get into the engine. Most of the time, if people are running into the flood, most of the time you can get through it just by pushing through."
Judson claims that in his experience the only downtown road that doesn't seem to flood is Meeting Street. Meanwhile, its parallels, East Bay and King, turn into lakes at certain points — and believe us, we here at the CP office on Morrison Drive, a.k.a. East Bay, know that all too well.
Where to avoid
Students, if it's been raining for three hours and you need to get from CofC to your Sumter Street home, unless you've got yourself an ark, the major spots to avoid are: The Market, Huger at King, Hagood at Lockwood, Cosgrove at I-26, Calhoun at Meeting, any Crosstown intersection, Wentworth Street, parts of Rutledge Avenue, Pitt Street, Smith Street, and lower Ashley Avenue.
For more info, search Google for the term "Charleston's flood-prone streets."