Comments while waiting to see impact of Hurricane Florence
By John R. Stone
As of this writing Hurricane Florence has not yet struck the Carolinas on the southeast coast of the United States. By the time you read this the impact of the storm will be better known.
I have a brother in North Carolina who, fortunately, does not live near the coast but is further away in Winston-Salem. We have visited him and the area a number of times over the years and those travels have taken us to other parts of the general area. We were in Winston Salem, Myrtle Beach and Charleston, South Carolina, in February of this year.
If Florence matches up to the predictions of this writing (midweek last week) that hurricane is going to create a real mess.
Ten years ago or so we stayed on the Outer Banks for a week during the off season, when it was affordable. The Outer Banks are really just a long sandbar, sometimes as narrow as 100 yards, with a lot of houses and restaurants. It is a place where people go to get away from the oppressive summer heat of Virginia, North and South Carolina.
The long sandbar, 150 miles or so, has a two-lane road. The highest spots are the dunes on the Atlantic Ocean side of the sandbar, many of them 20 feet high. The side facing mainland is maybe four or five feet above sea level.
Hurricanes and nor’easters are not friends of the Outer Banks, and every few years there is a breach where a storm washes through the sandbar cutting off one end from the other. Look at it on a map; some folks are trapped until the breach is filled and the tar replaced.
All along the North and South Carolina coastlines are lowlands. When you drive the closest roads you can find to the coast you are either by the ocean or driving on a road built up from the swamp you are driving through. And there are more barrier islands (really just sandbars) all the way down the coast to Florida. There are causeways or bridges to link these islands with the mainland. At the south end of the Outer Banks there is a ferry, at the north end a bridge.
So when weather forecasters start talking 12 to 15-foot storm surges and 20 to 30 inches of rain it is pretty clear there will be a whole lot of the southeastern coastline under water, along with much of the Outer Banks. And we’re not even talking about wind damage.
A dozen years ago or so, when we spent that week on the Outer Banks, we arrived shortly after a hurricane. It had been fizzling out at that point, having moved up the Atlantic Coast from Florida. By the time it got to the Outer Banks it was no longer a hurricane but it still produced a lot of rain.
We showed up at our rental that was a stilt house that sat on a slight mound. We drove through 6 inches of water covering the driveway to get to the mound the house sat on, and there was a small area we could get out of the car and unload our bags. We couldn’t walk anywhere else on the property; it was all under water. But we had electricity; and we could drive to the road so we were okay. That water didn’t go away for four days. And we were on sand.
So, I imagine that the recovery time, should Florence turn out to bring as much water as is forecast, will be quite a while for all the areas affected.
A year or two before Katrina we had been in Biloxi, Mississippi, and rented a small house a block from the beach. We drove through the area three years later and there was still damage visible. The house we had stayed in was gone. It was destroyed as was everything else around it, including a brick building that had been on an adjacent lot. All had been cleared away by the storm surge. All there was were signs for lots for sale.
We don’t know what Florence’s impact will be but in low-lying areas, it doesn’t take much to do a lot of damage. Hopefully that doesn’t happen in this case, but we know it can.