Coastwide
Hurricane Florence makes landfall near Wrightsville Beach at 7:15 a.m. Sept. 14, 2018, as a Category 1 storm. The GOES East satellite captured this geocolor image of the massive storm at 7:45 a.m. ET, shortly after it moved ashore. Photo: NOAA

Study: New Normal Demands New Approach

This is the second installment in a special reporting series on coastal resiliency. Read Part 1. As Category 4 Hurricane Florence plowed toward the North Carolina coast last September, an all-hands weather code red reverberated throughout the eastern part of the state.

Mandatory evacuations ensued. Universities closed. National news reports warned travelers to steer clear of driving through the state’s I-95 corridor. Administrators and emergency personnel of towns on barrier islands braced for the worst as they moved inland to ride out the storm, one that as of Sept. 10, 2018, packed winds of 140 mph.

Three days later, Florence was downgraded to a Category 1, a storm that, according to the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale, would bring dangerous winds likely to damage roofs, shingles, vinyl siding and gutters, snap large branches and topple shallow-rooted trees, and cause power outages.

Moving at a snail’s pace, moisture-packed Florence did much more after coming ashore near Wrightsville Beach Sept. 14, 2018.

Over the course of four days, Hurricane Florence’s record-breaking storm surge – 9 to 13 feet – and rainfall amounts that exceeded 35 inches left a wake of devastation that included dozens of deaths and an estimated $17 billion in destruction in the state.

Say hello to the poster child of what a newly released Zurich North America study calls the “new normal” of hurricanes, storms that researchers say require bucking current storm preparedness methods, taking a holistic approach to addressing risks and changing the terminology we use to communicate possible post-storm consequences.

Florence and the 2016 Hurricane Matthew, researchers warn, are not anomalies.

Large, slow-moving, catastrophic flood-causing rainfall – these are the ingredients of a new recipe of hurricanes coastal residents, policy makers and governments can expect in our changing climate.

Unveiling Weaknesses

With each hurricane comes a series of lessons.

“Every disaster provides ample learning,” said Michael Szönyi, flood resilience program lead for Zurich and one of the authors of the study, “Hurricane Florence: Building resilience for the new normal.”

Included in the study, a collaborative work of Zurich North America, the Zurich Flood Resilience Alliance, and the Institute for Social and Environmental Transition-International that was published in April, are highlights of real-life experiences and some of the lessons taken from Hurricane Florence.

Michael Szönyi

After a new generator failed three times during the storm, New Hanover County emergency management personnel were forced to switch to a backup generator and move the emergency operations center to the other side of the building.

The 911 call center was offline for eight hours during the move.

In New Bern, a man confident he had prepared well to ride out the storm in his home was getting to ready to escape rising floodwaters and hunker down on the second floor of his house when firefighters knocked on his door.

The house adjacent to his was in flames, set ablaze by a generator that caught fire, and firefighters could not guarantee his safety.

The man told researchers the experience taught him to heed future evacuation notices.

Read full Coastal Review Online article . . .