Maze: 'Worst is ahead of us' for flooding
Posted October 8
Updated October 9
Raleigh, N.C. — Hurricane Matthew dumped heavy rain from the coast to the Triangle on Saturday, killing three people. One person died in Sampson County when the person's vehicle hyrodplaned, and two more people died when their vehicle was submerged.
Creeks and rivers continued to swell under the steady rain while roads around Cumberland and Hoke counties flooded as the region was trying to dry out from widespread floods a week earlier. The storm was downgraded to a Category 1 storm on Saturday morning, but it prompted flash flood warnings across half the state.
"It's no longer what you would call a well-organized tropical system at all but the impact is still huge," WRAL Chief Meteorologist Greg Fishel said Saturday night.
Fishel noted that Saffir Simpson Scale used to categorize hurricanes is only based on wind strength and not storm surge or rainfall amounts.
"It all boils down to impact and impact on human life and property and the Saffir Simpson Scale simply doesn't do that," he said.
Highway 401 in Fuquay-Varina, Interstate 95 was in several locations in Robeson, Wilson and Johnston counties and Interstate 40 between exits 391 and 235 were closed Saturday afternoon after flooding made the roads impassable and several lakes and creeks began overflowing. More than 200 roadways in Wake County were impassable because of high water. WRAL meteorologist Mike Maze warned that people should stay off the roads, especially at night when roads are difficult to see.
Just before 5 p.m., Crabtree Creek reached 18.67 feet in height at Old Wake Forest Road and the flood stage is set at 12 feet. The record height for the creek is 21.9 feet, said Maze. Crabtree Creek in Raleigh reached 21 feet and major flooding occurs at 23 feet.
In Sampson County, the Bullard Pond Dam broke just after 6 p.m. and washed away a portion of Hayne Stretch Road.
Cape Fear in Fayetteville is expected to rise to 52 feet- 17 feet above the flood stage- by Monday. Maze said that even after the rain stops, creeks overflow and flooded roads will remain as the water takes time to dissipate.
'I think the worst is ahead of us when it comes to river flooding," Maze said.
The city of Fayetteville as well as Four Oaks issued a mandatory curfew from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. Sampson and Wayne counties issued a curfew from 6 p.m. until 6 a.m. due to flooding conditions.
Durham County declared a state of emergency beginning Saturday and extending through Thursday while Orange County issued a state of emergency effective at 7 p.m. Saturday. Rocky Mount also issued a state of emergency just after 8:30 p.m. while Wake County issued a state of emergency just before 10 p.m.
Fishel explained that Matthew's interaction with a frontal boundary along the coast caused the axis of heavy rain to move west of where it was initially anticipated, leading more rain to fall inland than along the coast.
By 5 p.m., over 6 inches of rain had fallen in Raleigh while Fayetteville saw more than 14 inches. The storm at times dumped up to an inch of rain per hour in some places. A flash flood warning was issued for Cumberland County through 11 a.m. on Oct. 13.
The storm was located near South Holden Beach Saturday evening and was moving north east at 14 mph. The rain was tapering off in Wake and Cumberland counties at 9:30 p.m. and moving to the eastern communities that were originally expected to bare the brunt of the storm.
"The areas that missed out on some of the heavier rain earlier today are beginning to make up for that now," Fishel said.
Maze said a large potion of the back edge of the system was still to the west of the Triangle at 10 p.m., but that would only bring light rain to the hard-hit areas as Hurricane Matthew moved east and out to sea.
A hurricane warning was in effect for the North Carolina coast north to Surf City. A hurricane watch was issued from Cape Lookout to Duck.
Additionally, a hurricane watch was issued from Surf City to Cape Lookout.
Maze said that wind speeds are expected to decrease as the storm moves east, but could remain at about 30 mph with gusts up to 50 mph throughout the night. Wind gusts on Saturday evening were 45 mph in Fayetteville and about 32 mph in Raleigh.
"Those numbers may not look all that terribly scary, but when you've had as much rain as we've had, it's really easy for winds of 45 mph to knock down a tree," Fishel said.
Gov. Pat McCrory on Saturday afternoon said residents shouldn't get complacent—the threat for major flooding, especially inland near creeks and rivers, will remain through Monday. Hundreds of buildings in the eastern part of the state are at risk of flooding if rivers overflow.
"This has the potential for North Carolina to see the worst flooding since Hurricane Floyd," McCrory said.
A tornado warning popped up briefly Saturday morning in Bladen County. The warning was canceled shortly after, but the potential for more tornadoes will remain throughout the storm.
"A lot of things that we’ll be worried about: potential tornadoes, certainly flooding, winds that may knock down trees and cause power outages," Gardner said.
Storm surge warnings were issued south of Cape Fear, meaning tides 5 to 7 feet above ground level are possible in coastal areas. Storm surge watches, meaning tides 2 to 4 feet above ground level, were in effect north of Cape Fear.
More than 4,400 electric utility crews mobilized across a dozen staging areas in North Carolina to respond to power outages, especially in the Sandhills and on the coast. Many of the crews were contracted to come in from the Midwest. The governor's office was reporting more than 625,000 power outages across the state at 10 p.m. Saturday.
"The people are going to have to be patient, hunker down, be safe and do not go out," McCrory said.
McCrory on Saturday afternoon asked all citizens to stay off the roads and sidewalks until the storm has passed. In Fayetteville alone, more that 500 people were assisted during over 110 water rescues Saturday.
"This is not a pseudo-storm. This is the real thing that could cause destruction and it's going to continue," McCrory said. "The next 48 hours is going to be very serious."
Raleigh police on Saturday night echoed McCrory's plea for residents to stay home, saying that all officers were responding to weather-related calls and would not be able to respond to anything else.
McCrory said that 130 people have been working around the clock at the Emergency Operations Center planning resources and deploying swift boats, medical supplies and the National Guard.
The storm is expected to spiral away from North Carolina on Sunday and will continue to drop in intensity. Maze said it will begin to weaken Sunday night and could eventually be absorbed by tropical storm Nicole in the Atlantic.
Wind speeds will swirl around 75 mph over the weekend. Wind gusts of 30 to 40 mph will linger into Sunday even after the rain ends, according to the National Weather Service.
"With the wind tomorrow, we could see more trees come down," Maze warned.
By daybreak on Sunday, conditions should be partly cloudy but dry in the Triangle while light rain will continue in eastern counties.
The state has continued to keep National Guard and rescue teams ready to respond to areas in need. Gov. Pat McCrory on Friday said other medical and evacuation resources will be sent to South Carolina and Florida to help those states deal with what could be the worst of the hurricane.
McCrory said residents in southeastern counties should be prepared for prolonged power outages after the storm. Electric utilities will likely be inundated with work, McCrory said, so it could take a while to get the lights back on.
Fishel said that skies should clear by Sunday afternoon with cool and sunny weather. A wind advisory remains in effect through 6 p.m. Sunday.
'It looks like we're heading into an extended period of quiet weather and there could be nothing better after a day like this," Fishel said.