Recovery

EDITORIAL: With Hurricanes, Water Is the New Wind

'Don’t just concentrate on categorization. Focus on the potential impacts for your area.'

by Star-News, Wilmington, N.C. / June 18, 2018

(TNS) — We find ourselves in another hurricane season, and Pender County, N.C., is preparing.

Are you? Are we all?

Pender just paid $18,000 to install a flood gauge on the N.C. 210 bridge over the Black River near Currie.

Last time we read about that section of 210, it was under water. Hurricane Matthew in 2016 swelled the Black River over its banks, less than 20 years after 1999’s Hurricane Floyd sent the Northeast Cape Fear and other rivers flowing into fields, homes and highways across Eastern North Carolina.

We commend Pender County for paying for the gauge even though, as Board of Commissioners Chairman George Brown noted, the state usually pays for those instruments.

The device is the county’s second one and is one of 560 river and coastal gauges that provide real-time water level information to warn residents who live and work nearby, as well as first responders and other emergency officials who need to know when roads are becoming impassible.

Much of that data is available on the ReadyNC mobile app. The app is associated with ReadyNC.org, one of several websites to help you prepare for the next big storm. You can also find useful information at redcross.org and others.

When a storm is approaching, the most spot-on information comes from the Wilmington office of the National Weather Service. They’ll tell you when it’s time to secure the lawn furniture and when to evacuate the barrier islands. That phrase “rush all preparations to completion” causes a shiver of apprehension whenever we read or hear it.

We think of beach houses and high winds with hurricanes. But in recent years, flooding has caused much more damage and taken more lives.

As building codes have strengthened, newer homes are better able to withstand Category 1 and 2 wind levels. If a stronger one than that comes along — and it will — we’ll see how the barrier island houses fare.

But flooding is a threat far from the coast. Hardest hit during Matthew weren’t Wrightsville Beach and Oak Island. It was Kinston, Pink Hill, Lumberton and areas around Currie.

Flooding doesn’t just take out homes here and there. The stores along the main street of Columbus County’s Fair Bluff were all closed nearly a month after Matthew, debris piled in front of each business. The heartbreak is widespread and the recovery has been slow.

Star-News reporter Adam Wagner noted in a story marking the start of hurricane season that while the National Weather Service has greatly improved the precision of its hurricane-track forecasts, predicting their strength is far trickier.

And during the Star-News Hurricane Preparedness Forum on June 6, one of our experts noted that hurricane categories refer only to the wind speed. They are not a measure of flooding.

Steven Still, New Hanover County’s Emergency Management director, said it’s important not to focus too much on wind speed.

“People seem to grab that number and say they are only going to evacuate if it's a Category 2 or 3, but we have to move away from that,” he said. “Don’t just concentrate on categorization. Focus on the potential impacts for your area.”

A stalled tropical storm may cause more damage from flooding than a quick Category 2 hurricane might cause with wind.

Of the 429,000 residents of Brunswick, New Hanover and Pender counties, 178,290 have moved here since 1996’s Fran — the last Category 3 hurricane to make landfall here.

During our forum, a number of newcomers anxiously quizzed our panel of experts. Some wondered if it was really necessary to heed evacuation orders.

The panel's answer was a unanimous and emphatic yes. A hurricane party can turn very quickly into a struggle for life.

Prepare your hurricane kit now. Make plans for where to meet if all communications go down. Locate your valuable documents. Fill your car’s gas tank.

And take warnings seriously.

A flood gauge can tell you how high the water is, but you don’t want to be there when it overflows.

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©2018 the Star-News (Wilmington, N.C.)

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