Record flooding continues in wake of Florence

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Boats broke away from moorings and slips during the flooding.

Boats broke away from moorings and slips during the flooding.

A week after Hurricane Florence made landfall near Cape Fear, N.C., boatbuilders and marinas in the Wilmington area were just getting back to their facilities, and many remained without power.

Record flooding continues across the state. The National Weather Service estimated that 8 trillion gallons of rain fell on North Carolina during Hurricane Florence.

Bennett Brothers Yachts is about 20 feet above the Cape Fear River on the northern banks in Wilmington. Vice president Connor Bennett said that aside from some downed trees, his company came through the storm in good shape.

“Our docks were damaged from boats, but overall we fared well,” Bennett told Trade Only Today. “We didn’t have enough flooding where the piers flooded over the pilings.”

He said Bennett Brothers has “another 10 feet of leeway before the river would flood our facility.”

Power was restored Wednesday. “This is the first day that most of these people are back in business,” he said.

The record flooding, however, continues. The Cape Fear River was estimated to be at 13 feet, with an expected crest near 18 feet this weekend.

Donnie Caison, president of Caison Yachts in Hampstead, N.C., said his company is not directly on the water and was spared from the flooding. “We’re real fortunate,” Caison said. “We haven’t had any flooding problems at our facility.”

There wasn’t much flooding at Off the Hook Yacht Sales in Wilmington, which remained closed Thursday, with sales personnel working remotely.

A representative of Port City Marina in Wilmington said employees were just returning to work Thursday.

Bennett said his company prepared for a Category 4 hurricane, even though the storm was downgraded before it made landfall. “The rain caused all the devastation in our area because of the flooding,” he said. “We just tried to make sure that we had a drainage plan, but when you have record rainfall, it’s tough to prepare for that.”

Scott Croft, vice president of public affairs for BoatUS, said it will be at least a month before he has loss numbers for insurance claims.

Hal Needham is president of Marine Weather and Climate, which provides data and analysis related to marine and environmental hazards. When he arrived in North Carolina last week, he said he was surprised by what he heard from locals.

“I got on the ground, and everyone was talking about Hugo,” said. “I expected people to be preparing for water that we’ve never seen.”

Hurricane Hugo was a wind event, but the forecasts for Florence, which turned out to be spot-on, predicted that the storm would slow when it made landfall and dump record rains.

“It doesn’t matter if you’ve never flooded before,” Needham said. “It doesn’t matter if you’re not in the flood zone.”

He said the problem was that people basically listened to what they wanted to hear. When Florence was downgraded to a Category 1, people thought they had dodged a bullet. “It’s oversimplified,” he said of the Saffir-Simpson scale. “We need a classification system that covers surge, wind and rain.”

Needham said difference in climate between the tropics and the Arctic is what drives weather patterns. If the difference between the two drops, the wind speed is reduced. That includes the speed of the “steering winds” that drive hurricanes. As the Arctic climate continues to warm, the steering winds have become weaker, and hurricanes have become rain events.

He added that Florence is the fourth storm since 2012 that has been more devastating because of rain, not wind. In 2012, Isaac stalled and dumped rain around New Orleans. The same thing happened with Debbie in the Tampa, Fla., area. In 2015, Joaquin slowed near the Bahamas and pounded South Carolina with rains. Last year, Harvey stalled and flooded Houston.

At one point, Florence was moving at just 3 mph; the storm dumped a record 35 inches of rain in North Carolina.

“This isn’t just that we’ve seen this once or twice,” Needham said. “Every season we’re seeing one of these events. It’s becoming more likely that we’re going to see more storms like this.”


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