SOUTHEASTERN N.C. — Hurricane season officially starts June 1 and the North Carolina Department of Transportation is implementing a new program that will notify it of flooded roadways in real time.
“This state-of-the-art warning system our department has created will help us be better prepared for the next major storm,” Eric Boyette, North Carolina transportation secretary, said in a press release.
Created in partnership with DPS-NCEM Risk Management and NCDOT, the transportation flood monitoring warning system will allow local officials and the public to track closed or dangerous roads, and alert NCDOT to repair and correct issues more quickly. Researchers have been developing the program since March 2019.
The product builds upon the 15-year investment in flood warning gauges and geospatial data investment by the state. It relies on 400 river and stream sensors to track flood risks to roads, bridges and culverts. The system will be able to monitor almost 3,000 miles of state-maintained roads and some 15,000 statewide bridges and culverts.
The system mostly utilizes gauges already in place from other agencies, such as from N.C. Emergency Management and the U.S. Geological Survey. There are 18 in the tri-county area. Three more are being added.
Two gauges over Calabash River and Town Creek on NC 133 are considered critical routes in coastal communities that are subject to surge and flooding during extreme weather, according to NCDOT. During Hurricane Florence in 2018, many homes in these areas flooded, some to their roofs.
Another gauge over Rockfish Creek on Interstate 40 is considered a vital corridor and the department wants to monitor the location since it flooded during Hurricane Florence.
The solar-powered gauges use a sensor that fires ultrasonic or microwave beams to the water below it to measure the water level. The level is then immediately sent to NCDOT employees.
Funded by a $2-million state grant, NCDOT developed the software and installed flood gauges after Hurricane Florence. The Category 1 storm washed out Highway 241 between Pender and New Hanover County and took two years to reconstruct.
“Even though we’ve had some quiet hurricane seasons recently, we cannot let our guard down,” Boyette said in the release.
Many weather agencies, including the National Weather Service’s NOAA Climate Prediction Center and the National Hurricane Center, are forecasting an above-average 2022 hurricane season. NOAA predicts up to 21 named storms and six to 10 hurricanes with winds topping 74 miles per hour or higher. It would mark the seventh consecutive above-average hurricane season.
Local officials and the public can view weather-related road closures gauges track on DriveNC.gov. Using three-dimensional ground surveys, the online dashboard offers flood-mapping and interactive features.
The department also partnered with the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s Renaissance Computing Institute and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Coastal Resilience Center of Excellence to receive data on the effects of storm surges on state roads in coastal areas.
NCDOT reports all of the agency’s 14 highway divisions also have been taking inventory of supplies, doing maintenance on chainsaws and other equipment, and readying emergency on-call contracts in preparation for the 2022 hurricane season.
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