GREENVILLE, N.C. (WNCT) – When Hurricane Floyd struck in 1999, it taught us the damage produced by a hurricane is not solely a function of strength. It’s also a function of the weather pattern in the weeks leading up to landfall – a lesson that was repeated during the hurricane season of 2016.
To fully understand the record flooding in the wake of Hurricane Matthew in mid-October, you have to go all the way back to early September.
Tropical system Hermine dumped between 5 and 9 inches of rain over parts of eastern North Carolina, with some locally higher totals near the coast.
In mid-September, the remnant moisture from tropical system Julia brought up to a foot of rain in some locations, so when October 1 rolled around, the region was already water-logged. And then came Matthew.
Hurricane Matthew rapidly organized in the Caribbean Sea in late September, eventually becoming a Category 5 hurricane.
The storm weakened significantly on approach to North Carolina, and was barely a hurricane at all when it brushed by Carteret County and the Outer Banks on October 8-9.
But weakening systems have a tendency to unwrap, spreading rainfall over an even larger geographic area, and Matthew brought well over a foot of rain to some counties.
Combined with record rains from September, there was simply nowhere for the water to go, and the rivers rose and continued to rise for many, many days.
The Neuse River near Kinston and Goldsboro crested at levels exceeding the records set by Hurricane Floyd.
Damages were measured in the billions in North Carolina alone, with over two dozen fatalities.
The Atlantic hurricane season usually peaks in September, but Hurricane Matthew reminded us that the season runs through November for a reason.