In 2016, Hurricane Matthew walloped North Carolina. The state was still recovering from Matthew when Hurricane Florence severely flooded the Carolinas this year. Later in the season, Hurricane Michael hit the western part of the Carolinas as a weakened tropical cyclone after battering the Florida Panhandle.
Hurricane Matthew formed in the Caribbean in early October of 2016. It quickly became a monstrous category 5 storm and barreled through several Caribbean islands, including Haiti and the Bahamas. On October 8th, the storm made landfall on the coast of South Carolina as a category 1 hurricane. The storm caused hundreds of deaths throughout the Caribbean, with 25 in North Carolina and 4 in South Carolina. Water levels were high all along the Southeast coast, but North Carolina recorded the storm’s highest U.S. water level, with Cape Hatteras recording a water level of 5.8 feet above the Mean Higher High Water (MHHW), or the average daily highest tide.
NOAA concluded that eastern North Carolina had been hit hardest by Matthew, with over 100,000 structures damaged in the region. To understand why this part of the state is so prone to flooding and surge from hurricanes, one must understand the geography of the region. North Carolina’s Coastal Plain is the lowest-lying region of the state. The Coastal Plain can further be divided into two sub-regions: the Inner and Outer Coastal Plains. The Outer Coastal Plain consists of the Outer Banks and the Tidewater region. This region is prone to severe flooding and acts as a buffer for the Inner Coastal Plain. Elevations in the Inner Coastal Plain can reach as high as 900-1,000 feet above sea level. However, in the case of Matthew, storm surge and flooding reached the higher elevations of the Inner Coastal Plain, likely due to the state’s expansive river and inlet system.
Residents of the state were still recovering from Matthew even this year. A man in Lenoir County, about 75 miles east of Raleigh, was still waiting on the Lenoir County buyout list for his trailer to be bought—over two years later. In a small town in South Carolina’s Pee Dee region, the town’s main street had been designated a floodplain after Matthew, increasing the cost of building, and thereby slowing the town’s rebuilding process. Stories like this were being reported throughout North Carolina just as Hurricane Florence rattled the state this year. The storm created a flooding catastrophe, with a recorded rainfall of 35.93 inches in Elizabethtown, NC. This broke the previous record rainfall for a tropical cyclone in the state, which was held by Hurricane Floyd which brought 24.06 inches of rain to Southport, NC. The storm slowed down once it hit land, which aided in the flooding aspect of the storm, bringing it to catastrophic levels.
After Florence, public opinion concerning the climate seemed to have changed. Elon University conducted a poll of over 840 registered voters and found that nearly 83% of all registered voters in the state believed that climate change will have a negative impact on coastal communities. The needed policy change came this year, when Governor Roy Cooper committed to cutting greenhouse gas emissions in the state 40% by 2025. This is a move that is in line with the Paris Climate Agreement, the agreement that set strict global standards to cut carbon emissions. While the US withdrew from this agreement, North Carolina is taking measures to mitigate climate change that are in line with the agreement. The Governor went a step further by issuing an executive order in October which outlined the state’s rigorous plan to combat climate change. Part of this plan is to move hog farms and communities away from the coast via buyouts. North Carolina is one of the top ten states for agricultural production, according to the USDA, and it is a leader in the production of certain commonplace goods, especially beef. Hog farmers in the state are extremely concerned about their future. While coastal communities will always be more likely to sustain significant damage, they are also more likely to have the money to rebuild. 33 of the state’s 3,000 hog farm lagoons were breached, causing the spilling of hog waste that could spread diseases and infections. Many of these lagoons are located in more impoverished areas of the state, and some were actually bought out by the state’s government after Hurricane Floyd in 1999. The program was canceled, but then revived by Cooper after Matthew. Buyouts were ramped up even more this year after Florence. To top it all off, a major hog producer, Smithfield, proceeded with their own plans to cut emissions 25% by 2025 by collecting methane energy at its hog farms. That little push from the private sector may give the state the momentum needed to enforce adaptation plans for the nearly 120,000 residents at risk of coastal flooding in the state.
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© 2018 Weather Forecaster Jacob Dolinger