As Hurricane Matthew approached the North Carolina coastline as a Category 1 hurricane with an uncertain projected path (Figure 1), many residents did not alter their weekend plans despite the projected impacts. University football games at NC State, Duke, and UNC were also held as planned despite worsening weather conditions as Matthew approached. This magnified the issue that explaining the severity of all hazardous impacts possible with a hurricane is challenging. Tropical systems are only categorized as a function of wind speed by the Saffir Simpson scale, not accounting for other associated threats imposed by tropical systems. For future events, it is imperative that meteorologists from all sectors express flooding concerns and other hazards that threaten life and property to assure necessary preparations are made in advance of impactful storms.
North Carolina experienced a wide array of damage from Hurricane Matthew, most notably from inland flooding resulting from considerable rainfall totals and swollen rivers. As of October 28th, damages were estimated approximately $1.5 billion to homes, businesses and government buildings. The price tag of Hurricane Matthew in North Carolina will certainly continue to increase as damages are assessed and legal proceedings occur over the next several months. Tropical storm force wind gusts were experienced as far inland as Raleigh and previously saturated soil resulted in numerous uprooted trees as well as power outages for around 400,000 customers. For almost two weeks after the storm, 150 secondary roads remain closed due to flooding, damage to infrastructure, and downed power lines. Most of the 28 total fatalities reported in North Carolina from Hurricane Matthew were vehicle related drownings that occurred in flooded areas. The flooding also resulted in over 600 rescue operations that relocated more than 2,300 people to safety, mostly in Robeson and Cumberland counties following breach concerns of nearby dams.
The most widespread cause of damage and loss of life in North Carolina due to Hurricane Matthew was inland flooding. Widespread and significant rainfall amounts of 10-15 inches (Figure 2) fell within a 72 hour period, resulting in rapidly rising water levels in area tributaries and rivers. The Lumber River in south Lumberton reached a record 24 ft, shattering the previous record of 20.5 ft. The Neuse River in Kinston crested at 28.31 ft, more than a foot higher than the previous record set by Hurricane Floyd in 1999. The Tar River in Greenville also crested at 24.5 ft, its third highest level in recorded history. Rapid river swelling from Hurricane Matthew’s torrential rains put immense stress on dams that were in the process of recovering from the previous flooding event in the Sandhills. The additional stress from Hurricane Matthew lead to the failures of 17 dams across the state, 13 of which occurred in Cumberland County. A breach of the Rhodes Pond Dam near Godwin flooded and closed a 15 mile stretch of Interstate 95 between Dunn and Fayetteville. The historic river flooding prompted numerous evacuations in low-lying flood prone regions, especially along major rivers in Moore and Lenoir counties in the cities of Lumberton, Princeville, Kinston, Vass, Goldsboro, and Greenville. This prompted further evacuations for Moore county residents near the Woodlake Dam near Crane Creek and the Little River.
While inland flooding impacted much of eastern North Carolina, the coastline and Outer Banks experienced damage caused by storm surge (Figure 3). Coastal flooding resulting from ocean waters being pushed inland by Hurricane Matthew impacted coastal locations including Wilmington and Cape Hatteras, whose beaches experienced storm surge levels of 5.8 feet. In addition to the damage from storm surge, damage caused by rough surf resulted in the collapse of a large portion of the Oak Island Pier. Several other smaller piers along the North Carolina coast also suffered minor damages and partial collapses due to rough surf.
By the time Hurricane Matthew reached North Carolina, the storm had weakened to a Category 1 hurricane as a result of coastal interaction and increasing wind shear. Overall, the wind damage from Matthew was minimal with the most significant wind gusts along the North Carolina coast ranging between 70-75 mph (Figure 4). Isolated hurricane force gusts were measured and reported along the coastline, with an outlying wind gust of 91 mph reported at Jennette’s Pier in Nags Head. Due to the combination of strong winds and saturated soil, much of the wind damage reported throughout eastern and central North Carolina was a result of uprooted trees. Additionally, there were localized incidents of shingle damage to homes throughout eastern NC where higher wind gusts were observed. According to the Storm Prediction Center (SPC) reports on October 8th, there was only one confirmed tornado during Hurricane Matthew, an EF0 with estimated winds of 80mph, width of 250 yards, and a path of 1 mile in length, that occurred in southeastern Wayne County near Goldsboro, NC (Figure 5).
Further Reading and Image Galleries:
Hurricane Matthew Wikipedia Article
Hurricane Matthew Track, courtesy of Ian Livingston & NHC
“Many on NC Coast Plan To Ride Out Hurricane Matthew”
“How Hurricane Matthew will affect this weekend's football games”
“Matthew-Soaked Notre Dame-NC State Football Game Yielding Funny Moments”
Hurricane Matthew Advisory Archive
Governor McCrory Receives Federal Disaster Declaration for 66 Counties
Hurricane Matthew Emergency Declarations in NC
NCDPS Hurricane Matthew Page
NWS Raleigh Hurricane Matthew Maximum Wind Gust Map
NWS Raleigh Hurricane Matthew Precipitation Map
“Babysitting NC’s Dams Around the Clock”
“I-95 Blocked in Both Directions Near Fayetteville, Dunn, and Lumberton”
“Hurricane Matthew’s Effect on the Atlantic Coast”
“Horrific rains and ocean surge: Hurricane Matthew by the numbers”
“Hurricane Matthew Recap: Destruction From the Caribbean to the United States”
“Tornado from Hurricane Matthew confirmed near Goldsboro, weather officials say”
SPC Storm Reports on October 8, 2016
“Record Flooding in North Carolina Continues Days After Hurricane Matthew”
“Precipitation Pattern across North Carolina during Hurricane Matthew”
Authors: Brandon Black, Shaelyn McLamb, Ryan Rackliffe, Kyle Tanner, Eric Webb, Sam Harris, Michael Mugrage, Luke Allen, Levi Lovell, Sean Feirstein, Lexia Williams, and Alex Mitchell.
Editors: Alex Mitchell, Levi Lovell, and Shaelyn McLamb
Faculty Review Board: Dr. Gary Lackmann and Dr. Sandra Yuter