NC State hurricane experts studying how future storms will impact NC roads, infrastructure

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RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — New research underway at North Carolina State University could shape the future of roads in North Carolina.

Hurricane experts at N.C. State want to figure out what size hurricanes or extreme weather we will see in the next 50 to 100 years to help the North Carolina Department of Transportation build roads that won’t flood. Highways and infrastructure are greatly impacted by hurricanes and heavy rains.

“They need to understand and anticipate these extreme weather events and how they will affect the transportation infrastructure going forward,” said N.C. State professor Gary Lackmann.

The two-year project is all hands on deck and involves experts from around the state.

“You need all that expertise so that everyone can give you the best information to design something that is going to be resilient to extreme events,” said Lackmann.

The NCDOT turned to N.C. State experts after realizing the way they used to build roads won’t work moving forward. A warmer climate will bring more rain and its goal is to keep roads open to traffic.

During hurricanes Matthew and Florence, parts of Interstate 95 and Interstate 40 closed for days due to flooding. They all produced a lot of rain over North Carolina and caused devastating flooding on roads and inundated neighborhoods. That’s why Lackmann and his team of experts are focusing on these storms.

“We’re taking that initial hurricane simulation, adding some warmth, and making the environment representative of the future, and then running again to look at what the precipitation will look like in the future,” said N.C. State graduate research assistant, Katy Hollinger.

She said according to preliminary data, some future hurricanes could bring up to 30 percent more water to North Carolina.

“The environment can cause all kinds of different changes to the structure of the storm, and the direction that it might go,” said Hollinger.

NCDOT assistant state hydrologic engineer Matt Lauffer said NCDOT’s goal is to get a better understanding of changing weather from climate scientists and how it will impact North Carolina’s transportation network.

Lauffer said NCDOT’s biggest concern is the safety of the motoring public and maintaining connectivity.

“I think after experiencing Matthew and Florence, it’s natural to get concerned, but we’re also developing a lot of tools to help us be better prepared,” said Lauffer

He said the NCDOT spent over $200 million dollars addressing damages from Hurricane Florence. At the height of the storm, there were more than 1,700 roads closed.

“After the storm passed, we did assessments and we had 3,500 bridges, culverts, roads and pipes damaged as a total,” said Lauffer.

Right now, construction is underway along the I-95 corridor in North Carolina to make it more resilient to extreme weather.

“While it’s unpractical to raise every road above a flood plain, better awareness of flood risk planners and emergency responders, and general public will make us a more resilient state,” Lauffer said.

N.C. State hurricane experts say the bottom line is the weather is changing and the state can’t ignore that or we will be in trouble.

“I think we better get ready. It’s coming and we need to make sure that we have resilient infrastructure so that when it happens, we’re better prepared and we can reduce loss of life and property,” Lackmann said.

The study is in its first year. We will get a look at some results in the summer of 2022.

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