2 years later, National Weather Service continues to improve messaging learned from Florence

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RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – Eight-trillion gallons…that’s how much rain fell from Hurricane Florence in five days in North Carolina in Sept. 2018.

Two years ago Monday, Hurricane Florence made landfall as a Category 1 hurricane on Wrightsville Beach.

Its legacy is not the wind, but the incredible rain it brought to North Carolina.

A downed tree uprooted by Hurricane Florence lies next to homes in New Bern, N.C., Saturday, Sept. 15, 2018. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

Barrett Smith, the hydrologist with the National Weather Service in Raleigh, believes there is still a long way to go in continuing to improve their messages to the public during major events.

And one way they are improving their messaging is by stressing impacts that extend away from the center of the storm.

“We’ve really tried to make strides in the National Weather Service in improving the messaging to not just focus on the center of the track but also focusing on miles and miles away from the center and also focusing on the impacts of flooding because that is the number one killer with tropical systems,” explained Smith.

Nationally, a new agency is working to continue to improve flood forecasts. At the state level, plans are constantly being revised to keep people safe, even when they have to evacuate.

“The National Weather Service is heavily invested in flood forecasting. We’ve got a National Weather Center down in Tuscaloosa, trying to improve a national water model, and so the Weather Service is heavily invested in that,” Smith said. “The state of North Carolina I know is heavily invested in monitoring stream levels and infrastructure, best evacuation routes, trying to make sure that we’re not putting even the people who are evacuating in harms way.”

The Weather Service can’t accomplish their mission alone, and Florence showed the strengths of their partnerships here.

“There was a three or four day river forecast at Fayetteville that was just right on several days out. The forecasts were just tremendous, but also the coordination with our local partners and at the state as well in trying to get messaging out and understanding what the impacts would be,” Smith recounted.

To date, North Carolina has distributed more than $3.5 billion in federal and state funds in recovery from Florence.

Florence caused $24 billion in damages in the U.S. and 54 deaths.

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