The effects of Hurricane Florence have yet to be measured. There is potential for Florence to have the greatest impact of a storm making landfall on the Carolinas in recent history. While still in the Atlantic Ocean, wind gusts reached up to 150 miles per hour (mph), and there was fear the hurricane could reach up to a Category 5 (wind speeds greater than 156 mph). As the storm approached the eastern shoreline of North Carolina it slowed to a crawl and wind speeds lessened. However, the storm also increased in size. The slower speed of the storm, coupled with its increased size, created a larger area of effect in the southeast. Though wind speeds had decreased, they still remained over 100 mph. When the storm made landfall on Friday, September 14, 2018, weather stations in Wilmington, North Carolina recorded wind gusts of 105 mph.
In addition to high winds, the coasts of the Carolinas were subjected to both high levels of storm surge (rising ocean water that is drawn in by the storm) and excessive rainfall. Storm surges varied across the coastline, ranging between three and nine feet. Given the snail’s pace at which the storm traveled inland, 2-3 mph (the average human walking speed is 3.1 mph), the Carolinas were inundated with record setting rainfalls. Areas around Wilmington and Jacksonville, North Carolina recorded 30-40+ inches of rain. The precipitation was not exclusive to the coast line, as rainfall across both North and South Carolina reached near-record levels. Areas around Charlotte, North Carolina recorded anywhere from 6 to 12 inches of rainfall. The precipitation was so great that monitoring equipment (rainfall gauges and river monitors) failed and stopped producing readings. Given the amount of rain, it is no surprise that flash flooding was rampant across the Carolinas. Rivers and creeks continue to rise, even after the rain stopped, which resulted in flooding of nearby areas. Multiple roads, including highways such as I-95, have closed as a result of flooding.
As the storm progressed across the state of South Carolina, wind speeds further diminished, with gusts recorded between 40 and 50 mph. Though the winds were not as severe, new hazards arose. With soft soil conditions due to constant rainfall, trees uprooted from lesser wind speeds. Fallen trees caused damage to property, such as buildings and vehicles, as well as power outages. Furthermore, the progress of the storm will entice atmospheric conditions that are prone to the formation of severe thunderstorms, as well as tornadoes.
Along with the damage reported to physical property, it is unfortunate that Hurricane Florence is also responsible for the loss of life. The total number of casualties is unknown. Within days of the storm passing, at least 32 fatalities have been reported.
In that regard, we at EDT would like to stress a word of caution...
Repair and recovery are on everyone’s mind right now. Though it is in everyone’s interest to start the rebuilding process as soon as possible, there is still significant potential for the loss of human life. Roadways and bridges remain susceptible to washout. Buildings may not be structurally sound. When accessing areas damaged by Hurricane Florence, sound judgement is recommended in these situations. If an area is questionable, consulting with an expert who can determine if a building is safe to access is advised. Property can be repaired or replaced. A life is not replaceable.
EDT has engineers with experience and training assessing these very conditions. As forensic engineers, we understand the potential dangers associated with a catastrophic event. We strive to aid in the recovery process. Our engineers are trained in the evaluation of structural, mechanical and electrical damage. We understand root cause analysis, especially when separating wind-related damage from storm surge and/or flooding. Our large loss engineers assist in the determination of damage/value of loss for large commercial and industrial properties. Our goal is to work as a team to resolve issues, so that people may go back to living their lives.
It is yet to be determined where Hurricane Florence ranks on the list of all-time storms making landfall in the Carolinas. Only history will tell. However, with millions of lives and businesses impacted, we do know that Hurricane Florence is number one on our mind right now. We are resilient. We have and will stand together; and, above all else, remain hopeful.
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