Flooding & Sea Level Rise in the SC Lowcountry

Mean High Water (MHW) is a project documenting the impacts of sea level rise & flooding in and beyond the South Carolina Lowcountry. The title is in reference to the MHW tidal datum defined and maintained by the NOAA Center for Operational Oceanographic Products and Service.

The tides of Charleston Harbor and the Atlantic Ocean are increasingly encroaching into the natural and built environment of Charleston and the Lowcountry. The rate of increase in the number of coastal flood events is alarming. Approximately 45% of all coastal floods observed in Charleston Harbor from 1953 through 2020 have occurred since 2010. An average of 18.8 coastal floods occurred per year in the 1990s. In the 2010s, the annual average was 42.4 coastal floods2, an increase of over 200%.

MHW was started in 2020 by photographer and engineer Jared Bramblett. It is intended to be an evolving and collaborative documentation of the impacts of flooding. If you are interested in participating and submitting to the project, please reach out. All content on this site is copyrighted. If you are interested in using any content, please submit a request.

Jared Bramblett

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All thoughts and opinions presented on this site are solely those of the author and are not necessarily those of any other organizations.

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Charleston Harbor, Cooper River Entrance1

Coastal Floods (>7-ft MLLW)2
89 (2019)
70 (2022)
68 (2020)
58 (2015)
55 (2016)

Major Coastal Floods (>8-ft MLLW)2
7 (2020)
6 (2015)
4 (2021)
4 (2019)
3 (2022, 2018)

Peak Tide Crests (MLLW)3
09/22/1989 - 12.52-ft (Hugo)
08/11/1940 - 10.23-ft (Unnamed)
09/11/2017 - 9.92-ft (Irma)
10/08/2016 - 9.29 (Matthew)
01/01/1987 - 8.81-ft 

29 of the 43 (67.4%) major flood tides on record have occurred since 2015.3

Statistics current as of 01/01/2023


1Tidal Benchmark Station - Charleston, Cooper River Entrance, SC - Station ID: 8665530

2NWS Coastal Flood Event Database

3Advanced Hydrologic Prediction Service, Charleston, SC 

World Water Day 2021

March 2021

What is the value of water? That’s the question posed for the year’s #WorldWaterDay, and it is an incredibly challenging one to answer. 

Here in Charleston, we live alongside beautiful beaches, rivers, and tidal creeks, and we are fortunate to have reliable access to quality drinking water and sanitary treatment facilities. But water also exposes some of our greatest vulnerabilities. Located in the South Carolina Lowcountry, we are at increased risks of flooding from heavy rainfall, increased sea levels, and tropical storm surges. Just last Thursday, we saw rainfall intensities briefly exceed 6 inches-per-hour, which overwhelmed our storm drainage systems and flooded areas throughout the City. There were a record-setting seven (7) ‘major coastal floods’ in Charleston Harbor in 2020, which resulted in significant tidal flooding of low-lying perimeter streets and properties. In 2016, 2017, and 2019 we experienced various levels of storm surge flooding from Hurricanes Matthew, Irma, and Dorian.

As we look to design solutions aimed to make us more resilient to these flooding challenges, we need to change the way we value water. We need to look to our past to inform our land-use and design decisions to appreciate the fluidity and embrace the uncertainty of water. By valuing the opportunities of water, we can design systems that can adapt to these challenges while enhancing our communities.

© 2022