Thursday, September 28, 2023

Wilmington received less than six inches of rain during Hurricane Matthew, but more floods are still possible

Flooding on Water Street around sunset on Monday, Oct. 10. (Photo by Hannah Leyva.)
Flooding on Water Street around sunset on Monday, Oct. 10. (Photo by Hannah Leyva.)

Though meteorologists had predicted 10 inches or more of rain would fall in Wilmington as a result of Hurricane Matthew, the immediate area ended up getting just over half that amount.

According to the National Weather Service in Wilmington, 5.71 inches or rain were recorded at the Wilmington International Airport for the duration of the storm. The highest amount they recorded in New Hanover County was six inches at a gauge seven miles southeast of Wilmington.

In Brunswick County to the south, rainfall totals varied greatly. One gauge nearly six miles west-southwest of Leland measured 8.98 inches, while one 4 miles south of Leland recorded less than half that at 4.07 inches. Oak Island, the fishing pier of which was heavily damaged due to heavy surf and strong winds, recorded just 3.4 inches of rain.

“When you’re doing with a storm like this, you can always expect some areas will get more or less than what’s predicted,” said Andy Hatzos, a forecaster with the NWS office in Wilmington. “More than 5 inches [in Wilmington] is still a lot of rain, but it’s not enough to cause the significant issues that we’re seeing elsewhere.”

The flooding occurring in places like Lumberton (which received more than 12 inches of rain) and Fayetteville (about 15 inches) to the west are a result of a slight shift in Matthew’s track, according to Hatzos.

“There was a heavy band of rain about 20 to 40 miles to our west-northwest,” Hatzos said.

He added that the heaviest rain in the NWS Wilmington forecast area fell from Florence, South Carolina to Whiteville, North Carolina.

“That just happened to be where it fell,” he said.

Still, local areas near rivers are still susceptible to flooding because flood waters in places further up the Cape Fear River begin to subside and empty down toward the ocean. A coastal flood advisory was issued Monday afternoon due to the combination of a high lunar tide and high levels of water in the swollen river.

Water Street in downtown Wilmington saw a few inches of flooding Monday, but not as bad as the knee-deep water that overflowed from the river on Saturday afternoon. According to Hatzos, more advisories could be issued over the next several days as water continues to flow down to the Atlantic Ocean.

Though the Wilmington area did not get much rain, the amount that did fall put even more pressure on ground that was already oversaturated from a very wet September.

“The rain definitely made the soil very moist, which made it easier for trees to topple over with the strong winds we got,” Hatzos said. “That meant it wouldn’t take much to uproot trees, which is why we had a lot of that, which led to all the power outages in our area.”

According to the National Weather Service, the sustained winds reached a maximum of 45 miles per hour at the Wilmington International Airport around 8:17 p.m. Saturday. A peak wind gust of 70 miles per hour was recorded at the same place at 9:30 p.m. that same night. Those winds caused trees to fall all over Wilmington and New Hanover County. Though there were no reported deaths, some trees fell onto buildings, homes and vehicles, while others fell onto streets and blocked roads.

Still, Hatzos said the Wilmington area was fortunate to have been spared the worst of Matthew.

“All in all, this area was not a bad place to be in our region during the storm,” Hatzos said.

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