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Flooding from Matthew Continues over Carolinas; Nicole Eyes Bermuda

By: Bob Henson 6:09 PM GMT on October 10, 2016

Under brilliant blue skies, the water-logged Inner Coastal Plain of North Carolina continued to grapple on Monday with the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew and the extreme rains it deposited on the region. At least 10 deaths have been reported across the state, according to weather.com. Some 1500 people in the town of Lumberton had to evacuate their homes early Monday (some fleeing to rooftops) after a levee in the southwest part of the town was breached overnight. At least 500 structures have already been affected by flooding in Lumberton as of Monday morning, said NC Governor Pat McCrory in a news conference. Update: It now appears there may have been no major levee beach near Lumberton--simply a massive amount of water finding alternate channels, according to an excellent Capital Weather Gang report on the flood by Angela Fritz and Chico Harlan.

Figure 1. Freda Pittman holds Mark Bergstresser's hand as Bergstresser ferries her from her flooded neighborhood to waiting friends on State Highway 211 in Lumberton, NC, on Sunday, October 9, 2016. Image credit: Chuck Liddy/The Charlotte Observer via AP.

Torrential rains pushed well inland on Saturday as Hurricane Matthew churned along the SC/NC coast before heading seaward late Saturday. See our Sunday post for a recap of some of the rainfall records and storm impacts produced by Matthew across the Southeast. Matthew dropped a total of 14.87” in Fayetteville, NC, with 14.00” of that falling on Saturday--more than doubling the city’s previous all-time calendar-day record of 6.80” observed during Hurricane Floyd on September 16, 1999. In fact, there are only four entire months in Fayetteville weather history that have received more rain than Fayetteville picked up in 24 hours on Saturday! Fayetteville records extend back to 1871. The rains were fed by extremely high amounts of atmospheric moisture brought into the region by Matthew. Increased atmospheric moisture is a hallmark of our ongoing planet-wide warming, as detailed by a number of studies. See this Climate Signals summary and this study published in July in the Journal of Climate.

A week of flooding ahead
It will take days for some rivers in North Carolina to crest, and many thousands of people will continue to be affected by flooding in or near their neighborhoods. Overall, the flooding is the state’s worst since the catastrophic Hurricane Floyd in September 1999, and some areas are being hit even harder than they were in Floyd (or any other storm on record). Below are several of the peak crests in North Carolina observed and/or projected by NOAA’s Southeast River Forecast Center as of Monday morning:

Black River near Tomahawk
27.37’ observed on Monday; still rising
Old record: 27.1’ on Sept. 18, 1999

Neuse River at Smithfield
29.09’ observed on Monday
Old record: 27.4’ on September 8, 1996

Little River at Manchester
31.73’ observed on Monday; projected peak 31.8’ later Monday
Old record: 29.0’ on Sept. 19, 1945

Cape Fear River at W.O. Huske Lock
68.4’ observed on Monday
2nd highest crest on record, behind 75.5’ on Sept. 22, 1945

Figure 2. The Lumber River is experiencing record flooding, exacerbated on Monday by a levee breach within the city of Lumberton. Image credit: NOAA/NWS Advanced Hydrologic Prediction Service.

Matthew’s toll: huge and still rising
The latest reports confirm that Matthew has been one of the most deadly and destructive Atlantic hurricanes of the 21st century. Early estimates suggested that insured losses for U.S. homes and business could be in the ballpark of $6 billion. However, these estimates have generally focused on damage inflicted by storm surge and wind, rather than on the potentially huge cost of inland flooding that is still unfolding. A roughly comparable storm, Hurricane Floyd in 1999, produced about $9.5 billion in U.S. economic damage. “I’d say that is a fair starting point for Matthew, given the expansive nature of the coastal inundation impacts from Florida to North Carolina and then the ongoing inland flooding across the Carolinas and southeast Virginia,” Steve Bowen (Aon Benfield) told me. Bowen also notes that the growing population across the Southeast U.S. leads to ever-greater exposure to financial loss when hurricanes do arrive.

Meanwhile, the Bahamas’ Tribune242 news service reported on Monday that Matthew will likely produce the largest insured losses from a single hurricane in the nation’s history. According to the international disaster database, EM-DAT, the two most expensive hurricanes in Bahamian history were Hurricane Frances of 2004 ($1 billion in losses) and Hurricane Jeanne of 2004 ($550 million in damage). The chief executive of the insurance firm Bahamas First told Tribune242 that he expects the total payout from Bahama insurance companies to exceed that from Frances and Jeanne combined.

At least 23 deaths in the U.S. have been attributed to Matthew, but the most tragic blow has been to Haiti, where the death toll is now estimated at more than 1000 (the official toll was still at 372 on Monday morning). Tens of thousands of homes were destroyed, and recovery efforts will be hobbled by the nation’s ongoing cholera epidemic. At the bottom of this post is more detail on ways you can help those affected by Hurricane Matthew in Haiti and elsewhere.

Figure 3. Enhanced infrared satellite image of Tropical Storm Nicole as of 1515Z (11:15 am EDT) Monday, October 10, 2016. Image credit: NOAA/NESDIS.

Nicole a significant concern for Bermuda
Tropical Storm Nicole, barely noticed during Matthew’s tenure, is now shaping up to be a hurricane threat in its own right. A Category 2 hurricane on Friday, Nicole weakened to minimal tropical storm status over the weekend amid dry air and strong wind shear. Nicole’s top sustained winds were 60 mph as of the 11 am EDT advisory from NHC. Nicole was located about 455 miles south of Bermuda and was heading north at 6 mph after moving little for much of the weekend. On Monday morning, Nicole had only a modest amount of showers and thunderstorms (convection) around its center, with the influence of dry air evident in the patchiness of banding around Nicole.

It appears Nicole will have a one- or two-day window for significant strengthening just before it approaches Bermuda on Thursday. Wind shear will plummet from its current 20 - 30 knots to around 5 - 10 knots by midweek. Mid-level relative humidity should be in the 50 - 60% range, up from the 40 - 50% range that prevailed over much of the weekend. As these conditions evolve, Nicole will be rolling over near-record-warm waters of the subtropical North Atlantic, with sea-surface temperatures of 28 - 29°C (82 - 84°F), roughly 1 - 2°C above average. Record warm waters in this region helped boost Hurricane Gaston to Category 3 strength at latitude 30°N in late August. The 00Z Monday runs of our top three track models--the GFS, European, and UKMET models--all bring Nicole over or very close to Bermuda on Thursday, with the European and UKMET models suggesting Nicole could be at least a Category 2 storm at that point. The 06Z Monday run of our top intensity model, the HWRF, agrees. The official NHC forecast as of 11 am EDT Monday bring Nicole across Bermuda as a strong Category 1 hurricane on Thursday. Regardless of its peak strength near the island, Nicole looks set to be a very large system, especially as it evolves into a post-tropical cyclone toward the weekend.

Figure 4. A girl carries water in Port-Salut, southwest of Port-au-Prince, in Haiti, on October 9, 2016, following the passage of Hurricane Matthew. Haiti began three days of mourning on Sunday for hundreds killed in Hurricane Matthew as relief officials grappled with the unfolding devastation in the Caribbean country's hard-hit south. Image credit: Rodrigo Arangua/AFP/Getty Images.

Portlight and Lambi Fund of Haiti disaster relief charities need your help
The Portlight.org disaster relief charity, founded and staffed by members of the wunderground community, is responding to Hurricane Matthew. Portlight has been working with their partners and stakeholder organizations throughout the affected region to ensure the needs of people with disabilities are well met. It's important to note this includes people in directly impacted areas as well as the tens of thousands of evacuees. You can check out their progress on the Portlight Blog or donate to Portlight's disaster relief fund at the portlight.org website.

The Lambi Fund of Haiti is very active in disaster relief and disaster prevention, including promotion of reforestation efforts, use of alternative fuels, and infrastructure improvements at a grass-roots level to help avert future flood disasters. What Lambi Fund is doing for their Hurricane Matthew response:
    •    Utilizing Regional Monitors and the active Partner Organizations (22 projects in portfolio) to survey the immediate needs in the South and Northwest in order to provide a primary response to these urgent needs
    •    Providing $150,000 for urgent relief during the first phase of their response while completing a needs assessment of the resources needed for the second phase, which will be to “Repair and Restore” the 22 active organizations’ projects that have been devastated
  •    Support the process of repairing the infrastructure damages (already established: 4 mills down in the Northwest, need to repair gardens, supply soil and nutrients essentially starting gardens over from scratch)

You can make your donation online at http://www.lambifund.org or send your funding support to: 

Lambi Fund of Haiti
1050 Connecticut Avenue, Suite 500
Washington DC 20036

Jeff Masters will be back with our next post on Tuesday.

Bob Henson


The views of the author are his/her own and do not necessarily represent the position of The Weather Company or its parent, IBM.