Mapping Perfect Storm

Pollution and water don’t mix — unless you live in the Carolinas, place major pollution sources in floodplains or too close to water, have a hurricane with heavy rain, and flood those pollution sources.

Riverkeeper Sam Perkins loves maps and GIS. He created a map in part to illustrate how we have brewed a dangerous storm of not just rain but also pollution. The map also helps Riverkeepers prioritize response areas and coordinate their documentation of observations from planes, boats and the ground.

Industry, lawmakers and regulators seem to have learned little just two years after Hurricane Matthew and two decades after major hurricanes of the late 1990s (e.g. Floyd in 1999). Perhaps North Carolina’s most infamous hurricane — Hazel (1954) — should have given adequate warming to such dangerous siting of pollution sources. When legislative sessions start back in 2019, we hope legislators will learn that industrial agriculture (CAFOs), coal ash sites and other pollution sources cannot be allowed to be left vulnerable to flooding. We know better. We have for a long time.

Click the arrow below to flip through his story map. Enlarge the screen to see a legend.

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Recent History: Hurricanes in Carolinas in the Late 1990s

The Carolinas were hit by a number of large hurricanes in the past two decades, nonetheless the past century. For the Carolinas, hurricanes with major rainfall and flooding were especially prominent in the late 1990s. On countless occasions, we have had opportunities to realize that in the future, we need to prevent a perfect storm of flooding and pollution. Take a stroll down memory lane.

  • June 6, 1995 – The extratropical remnants of Hurricane Allison produce heavy rainfall in the eastern portion of the state, causing flooding which results in $5 million (1995 USD, $7 million 2007 USD) in crop damage.
  • August 7, 1995 – Tropical Depression Erin dissipates over the Appalachian Mountains and drops light rainfall in the state’s western portion.
  • August 17, 1995 – Hurricane Felix makes its closest point of approach to the state, which causes high surf and rip currents; three people are killed from the surf, and severe beach erosion is reported.
  • August 28, 1995 – Tropical Depression Jerry degenerates into a remnant low over Georgia, dropping heavy rainfall that causes localized serious flooding. Dozens of homes sustain flood damage, and monetary damage in the state totals over $7.5 million (1995 USD, $10.2 million 2007 USD).
  • September 7, 1995 – Rip currents from Hurricane Luis kill a fisherman in Brunswick County.
  • October 5, 1995 – Former Hurricane Opal produces moderate rainfall across and gusty winds across much of the state; a falling tree, as a result of the winds, kills a man when it strikes a mobile home, and also causes one indirect death. Damage amounts to over $15 million.
  • June 20, 1996 – Minimal Tropical Storm Arthur crosses the Outer Banks with moderate surf and light rainfall, causing no significant damage.
  • July 12, 1996 – Hurricane Bertha makes landfall near Wilmington, destroying hundreds of structures and damaging thousands more, mostly from storm surge. Damage amounts to over $250 million (1996 USD, $325 million 2007 USD), about half of which from crop damage, and there is each one direct and one indirect death in the state.
  • August 29, 1996 – Hurricane Edouard begins impacting the state with high surf, which causes some overwash.
  • September 6, 1996 – Hurricane Fran makes landfall near Wilmington with winds gusts peaking at 137 mph and a 10-foot storm surge. In North Topsail Beach and Carteret County alone, the hurricane damages or destroys 6,688 structures, while further inland, heavy rainfall causes river flooding. Across the state damage amounts to about $2.55 billion (1996 USD, $3.35 billion 2007 USD), becoming, at the time, the state’s worst natural economic disaster. The hurricane causes a total of 14 deaths in the state, of which eight were indirect.
  • October 8, 1996 – The extratropical remnants of Tropical Storm Josephine cause some flooding after dropping light to moderate precipitation across the state.
  • July 24, 1997 – The remnants of Hurricane Danny re-intensify into a tropical storm over the northeastern portion of the state, producing moderate precipitation up to 12.3 inches (312 mm) in Albemarle. The rainfall causes two deaths from drowning in the western portion of the state.
  • August 27, 1998 – Hurricane Bonnie moves ashore near Wilmington as a strong Category 2 hurricane with a moderate storm surge and heavy rainfall from its slow movement across the state. A girl in Currituck County was killed when a large tree fell onto her home. The winds and rainfall cause heavy crop damage, and monetary damage in the state is estimated at about $480 million (1998 USD, $610 million 2007 USD).
  • September 4, 1998 – The extratropical remnants of Hurricane Earl drop moderate rainfall while crossing the state.
  • September 22, 1998 – The remnants of Tropical Storm Hermine produces light rainfall in the state.
  • September 29, 1998 – Former Hurricane Georges weakens to tropical depression status, later dropping light rainfall in the state.
  • August 30, 1999 – Hurricane Dennis parallels the state offshore, and five days later it executes a loop and makes landfall along Cape Lookout National Seashore as a strong tropical storm. The hurricane drops heavy rainfall peaking at 19.9 inches (506 mm) in Ocracoke, while its extended duration offshore causes localized severe beach erosion. The rainfall causes flooding along several rivers, which is compounded by the effects of Hurricane Floyd just weeks later. Damage in the state amounts to over $50 million.
  • September 16, 1999 – Hurricane Floyd strikes near Cape Fear with a 10-foot (3 m) storm surge and wind gusts of up to 122 mph (197 km/h); the hurricane drops heavy rainfall of over 20 inches (500 mm), which causes record-breaking river flooding that is considered a 1 in 500 year event. Damage amounts to over $3 billion (1999 USD, $3.7 billion 2007 USD), with over 7,000 homes destroyed and another 56,000 damaged. The passage of the hurricane causes 35 direct deaths and 16 indirect deaths in the state, primarily from flooding. Governor Jim Hunt considers the hurricane “the worst disaster to hit North Carolina in modern times.”
  • September 21, 1999 – Tropical Storm Harvey crosses southern Florida, with its moisture producing light rainfall along the North Carolina coastline.
  • October 18, 1999 – Hurricane Irene parallels the state’s coastline just offshore, dropping further heavy rainfall to coastal regions. Some additional flooding is reported, and one indirect death occurs due to a traffic accident.