Hurricane historian says Florence similar to Hazel, Fran, Floyd

September 12, 2018

A nationally renowned hurricane expert compares Hurricane Florence with some of the worst disasters in North Carolina’s history.

Jay Barnes, who has written several books on hurricanes, including “North Carolina’s Hurricane History,” said Florence has a lot of similarities to Hurricanes Hazel, Fran and Floyd.

“Right now, I think all North Carolinians need to be concerned about Hurricane Florence,” said Barnes, who also serves as director of development for the North Carolina Aquarium Society. “With the size and the intensity and the current forecast track, it’s a dangerous time for people in North Carolina with regard to this storm.”

Florence is a strong Category 4 hurricane, with sustained winds of 140 mph as of Tuesday evening. Hazel is the only Category 4 storm to ever hit North Carolina, when it devastated the southern coast in 1954 with an 18-foot storm surge.

“You are talking about the entire ocean level rising up as a storm of this size makes landfall,” Barnes said.

But while Hazel raced across the state, Florence is forecasted to stay awhile.

“You can have a lot more impact from a slow-moving storm that sits over you than one that moves on through,” Barnes said.

Floyd caused similar problems when its torrential rains inundated much of eastern North Carolina in 1999.

“Floyd stands as our greatest natural disaster in North Carolina history, with over $6 billion in damages and 52 fatalities,” Barnes said.

Most of those killed were in the floodwaters that traveled east as swollen rivers crested.

″[The problems were] not while the storm was there,” he said. ”[They were] days and weeks after the storm because the floodwater lingered.”

Three years before Floyd, Fran left a trail of destruction from Wilmington to Raleigh – the same path Florence is forecasted to take.

“I don’t want to be an alarmist, but as we look at storms of the past, there are parts of what we see in Florence that could fall out that way,” Barnes said. “As the hours click by and we get closer, the odds of this being our greatest disaster increases, unless we see something change that lessens the intensity of the storm.”

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