Twenty-one years after Hurricane Floyd, flooding remains a concern in North Carolina

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Wednesday marks 21 years since Floyd made landfall as a category two hurricane near Cape Fear during the early morning hours of September 16th. Although Floyd did not linger in North Carolina, its impacts were felt long after the tropical system was gone.

Floyd brought incredible rain totals to the state, ranging from 15 to 20 inches. That alone was more than enough to cause significant flooding. But the ground was already inundated with tropical rain from Dennis just a short time before. CBS 17 Storm Team Meteorologist Bill Reh recalls the historic one-two punch.

“Yeah well you know in September we had a storm called Dennis that was supposed to go out to sea and curved around and came right over central North Carolina and dumped a lot of rain. So the ground was already saturated. Then you go and fast forward a couple of weeks, and here comes Floyd. So Floyd did not move like Florence, it moved through the state, but it dumped a lot of rain on an already saturated ground. And it was just devastating,” said Reh.

North Carolina saw a catastrophic combination of five to ten inches of rain from Dennis, then the additional deluge from Floyd led to even more flooding. Flooding that the state had never seen.

Nick Petro, the Warning Coordination Meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Raleigh, recalls the records set by Floyd. Some of which still stand today.  

“In fact, almost all of the rivers in central and eastern North Carolina came out of their banks and flooded, and set all-time records. Now, unfortunately, we have seen those records from Floyd eclipsed on some of the rivers, but not all of the rivers. On the Tar River, Hurricane Floyd is still the flood, in terms of the height and exceeding flood values, Floyd is still the hurricane of record for the greatest amount of flooding on the Tar River. And a lot of the water that spilled out on the banks inundated agricultural areas and agricultural lands.”

North Carolina lost 35 lives from Hurricane Floyd. Petro commented that Hurricane Floyd caused about six billion dollars in damage, but three billion of that was in North Carolina alone with 7,000 homes destroyed.

Floyd will be remembered for the numbers, but also for the lessons.

“I think what Floyd taught us was the inland flooding. That was the first time we saw so much inland flooding. So we were able to forecast Floyd, the path moved along, that worked out, it produced the rain and moved on. But coming over those saturated soils and all that rain, just the way it devastated with all that flooding along the eastern part of the state of North Carolina, just really demonstrated to us and taught us more about the inland flooding effects as opposed to just the storm surge along the coast,” says Reh.

Petro reminds North Carolinians that we must remain on alert for future flooding.

“Obviously, it’s not if a hurricane is going to strike the Carolinas, it’s when. We’re just in that part of the world where hurricanes are going to strike almost every year just about. We’ve dealt with Floyd, and then 15 to 20 years later we’ve seen it numerous times with both Matthew in 2016 and Florence in 2018 that flooding is our main risk here in central and eastern North Carolina.”

An important reminder for all of us as we continue to move through this historic hurricane season.

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