Hurricane Dennis a Contributor to Floyd's Massive Floods
Posted September 21, 1999
TARBORO — Although flood waters are going down in some areas, they are rising in others. Most rivers and streams are still way above flood stage.
The flooding happened fast, drowning people, livestock and entire towns.
Most would say Hurricane Floyd is the reason water took over our state so quickly, but Hurricane Dennis is also to blame.
North Carolina was double-teamed. Floyd was a wet storm dumping much of its heavy rain inland rather than in coastal areas. The combination of Floyd and Dennis was too much for rivers and streams.
Jerad Bales tracksstream and river levelsfor theU.S. Geological Survey. He says the Pamlico and Neuse River basins caught most of the rain. Last week was a watershed event on the Tar River.
"It was about a 200-year flood at Louisburg. And from Louisburg on downstream it was a 500-year flood -- the highest we've ever seen," says Bales.
The Tar River at Tarboro rose to an estimated 40 feet above flood stage; more than 13 feet higher than during Fran.
The National Weather Service uses the readings from gauges to measure stream levels and predict flooding. Twenty gauges were lost or knocked out of service by flood waters.
USGS online chartsshow many streams and rivers were already high last Thursday when Floyd hit, thanks to water left by Dennis.
"Rocky Mount, for example, got about 7 inches of rain over a three-day period with Dennis, Labor Day weekend. And so then, less than two weeks later, Rocky Mount gets another 16 inches of rain," says Bales.
Charts show rivers rose quickly -- more than 20 feet in a day. Bales says people living along them were caught by surprise.
"I guess it's surprising because we hadn't experienced it before so we had nothing, no frame of reference. They'd never seen it before," he says.
There is so much water in central and eastern North Carolina it is having a hard time finding a place to go and its effects will be with us a long time.
A 500-year flood translates to two-tenths of one percent of having flooding like this in a year. 500-year floods do not happen just every 500 years.
Although statistics are against it, it can happen again in the same place, any time.
Living near rivers and streams where flooding can happen is a desire for some, a necessity for others, and a gamble for anyone.