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Hurricane Florence–The Myths and The Facts

September 20, 2018

By Paul Homewood






True to form, the media have been whipping up a state of hysteria about Hurricane Florence. Unlike some of their more irresponsible members, I have waited until all of the data is in, instead of rushing to judgment.

So, to the facts:



Wind Speeds

We will remember some of the original predictions of how Florence was going to be one of the strongest storms ever to hit the Carolinas.

In the event, the hurricane began to weaken long before it reached the coast, where it made landfall as a Cat 1, with sustained wind speeds of 90 mph.

There have been eight major hurricanes which have hit the Carolinas at Cat 3 and over since 1880, including three Cat 4s – Hazel, Gracie and Hugo in 1954, 1959 and 1989 respectively:


Fox News reminded us of just how devastating these last three really were:

Hurricane Hugo; 1989

One of the strongest hurricanes to ever hit South Carolina, Hugo made landfall on Sept. 22, 1989, near Sullivan’s Island, South Carolina as a Category 4 storm.

Hugo brought massive winds, leveling houses and businesses, tearing down trees and making roads impassable as it hit near Charleston. Overall, it caused $18.7 billion in damage as it wreaked havoc on the Carolinas specifically.

Hugo was blamed for at least 86 deaths, according to the National Weather Service.

Hurricane Gracie; 1959

When it barrelled through the St. Helena Sound in South Carolina on Sept. 29, 1959, Hurricane Gracie was still a Category 4 storm, according to the National Weather Service.

While the storm hit in 1959, it was only designated a Category 4 storm by scientists in 2016, The Associated Press reported.

Gracie caused the deaths of 10 people in South Carolina and brought about $14 million worth of damage, according to The Associated Press.

Hurricane Hazel; 1954

Hurricane Hazel made landfall on the North and South Carolina border on Oct. 15, 1954, according to the National Weather Service. Then, Hazel was a powerful Category 4 hurricane with winds up to 150 mph that brought immense devastation.

An initial report said “all traces of civilization on the immediate waterfront between the state line and Cape Fear were practically annihilated,” according to the National Weather Service. Additionally, only five of the 357 buildings in Long Beach, North Carolina, reportedly remained after the storm.



Storm Surge

No exact data yet from the National Hurricane Data, but they indicated at the time that storm surge would be between 7 and 11 ft at most. This is well below Hazel, which brought an 18 ft surge.


To give some idea of the devastation wrought by Hazel, read this account from NWS:

Hazel made landfall as a Category 4 hurricane near Calabash, North Carolina, close to the North Carolina/South Carolina state border, halfway between Myrtle Beach and Wilmington. The hurricane brought a storm surge of over 18 feet to a large area of the North Carolina coastline, producing severe coastal damage. Intensifying the damage was the fact that the hurricane coincided with the highest lunar tide of the year. Brunswick County suffered the heaviest damage, where most coastal dwellings were either completely destroyed or severely damaged. For example, in Long Beach, North Carolina, only five of the 357 buildings were left standing.  As a result of the high storm surge, the low-lying sandy barrier islands were completely flooded. The official report from the Weather Bureau in Raleigh, North Carolina stated that as a result of Hazel, "all traces of civilization on the immediate waterfront between the state line and Cape Fear were practically annihilated." The December 1954 NOAA report on the hurricanes of the year states that "every pier in a distance of 170 miles of coastline was demolished".

This certainly puts into the shade anything experienced this year.


Florence set the all time record for rainfall from a single storm, with 35.93 inches, beating the previous record of 24.06 inches from Floyd in 1999.


Cue the usual argument that this is because of warmer seas. But nothing could be further from the truth.

Floyd dumped most of its rain on N Carolina in less than a day. It made landfall there on 16th September, but by the next day had torn up the east coast, and emerged at Long Island.

On its way, it continued to inundate everywhere from Virginia to New England.


By contrast, Florence was very slow moving, as a result of interaction with a subtropical ridge:


It was this change to a westerly direction which exposed a very small area of the Carolinas to several days of heavy rain, particularly from Thursday to Sunday.

Hurricane Florence made landfall outside Wilmington, North Carolina, about 7:15 a.m. on Friday as a Category 1 storm.

For instance, the first 38 hours of the storm (2.0 pm Thursday to 4.0 am Saturday) brought a reported maximum of 23.75 inches:

Because of the slowness of the storm, much more rain was to follow in the next two days.



It is also worth comparing with the Cat 2 hurricane which hit the Carolinas in July 1916. Having made landfall in Charleston, it moved north where it left some of the worst ever floods in N Carolina. In one 24-hour period, it dumped 22.22 inches of rain, still a State record.

North Carolina Floods





Reports of catastrophic and biblical flooding seem wide of the mark, although in some areas it was extremely severe.

According to the NWS, flooding is expected to peak today in most areas. Their latest observations show that major flooding is mainly restricted to the Cape Fear River, which flows through Wilmington (see purple dots). This is unsurprising as that is the area which saw the worst of the rain.


I have also included below the same map with just the major flooding, for better visibility, and annotated the major stations to cross reference with the flood charts which follow:



Burgaw – 1


Fayetteville – 2


Huske Lock – 3


Goldsborough – 4


Kinston – 5


Hookerton – 6


Conway – 7



Galivants – 8


Cheraw – 9

Only one station, Burgaw, has broken the record, or appears likely to. Moreover, and this only has historic crest data going back to 1999.

Interestingly, if you look at other Cape Fear River sites, such as Fayetteville and Huske Lock, the records were set back in 1945.

Most of both N and S Carolina have escaped any flooding at all, and the major flooding has been limited to a relatively small area.

This is in stark contrast to Hurricane Floyd:

The record rainfall amounts from Hurricanes Dennis and Floyd led to widespread and prolonged flooding in eastern North Carolina. With the exception of the Lumber River Basin, all of the major river basins in eastern North Carolina experienced flooding at the 500-year recurrence interval 


Final Thoughts

Hurricanes come in all shapes and sizes. They always have and they always will, regardless of global warming. Big, small, fast moving, slow moving, powerful, weak. The difference is often due to tiny variations in meteorological conditions.


Bad though Florence was, there is little doubt that for most living there, N Carolina dodged a bullet. One day, another Hazel, Hugo or Floyd will arrive, and no doubt will be blamed on global warming by those who should know better.

As for Florence, it is already being claimed that the stalling of the storm, and Harvey, close to the coast was made more likely by global warming. Let’s run with that then.

The US has just had the longest period on record without a major hurricane, prior to Harvey last year, with atmospheric conditions often steering such storms away from land. Was that  also due to global warming?

Clearly you cannot argue that one set of meteorological conditions is due to global warming, and the other not.

Unfortunately the US East Coast is in the firing line for hurricanes, and all we can do is prepare for them as best as we can.

  1. Greg permalink
    September 20, 2018 7:13 pm

    Hazel was 7 years before I was born, but my parents often referenced Hazel when other storms came along 15 years or more later. They talked about all the people who died – in Toronto Canada, thousands of miles north and west from landfall. Hazel resulted in new laws regarding building in flood plains.

  2. Ian Magness permalink
    September 20, 2018 7:13 pm

    Excellent, informative investigation as ever Paul.
    Someone who I have converted to scepticism asked me the other day why the powers that be in politics and the media don’t take these kind of factual studies on board and start changing their stances. Other than point to those with significant financial vested interests wishing to perpetuate the myths, I am simply in the dark. I find it hard to fathom. The truth will out eventually but I’m not sure it’ll happen in a decade, possibly in a generation.

    • dave permalink
      September 20, 2018 8:28 pm

      “I find it hard to fathom.”

      At first glance, perhaps, but not so hard when the real motivation of “professional scientists” is considered.

      They are terrified; existentially panicked.

      Not so long ago, a scientist could claim to `know` in a general way what every other scientist was about. At the least he could `bone up`on it. Now most scientists HAVE TO TAKE ON TRUST the work in the 99% of the enterprise of science that is outside their own terribly narrow fields.

      As a comfort, both to themselves and to the `consumers`of scientific expertise, they have made up a sort of founding myth; namely that a certain austere love of truth combined with `peer review`ensures that this taking on trust is a safe thing. So, asked a question about stellar evolution, say, a materials engineer could instantly say the few things he actually knew about the stars, and go on “It is in all the library, you know. I won`t deprive you of the pleasure of finding out for yourself!”

      Now imagine if “the enterprise“ is proved to have made a huge, collective mistake! The whole belief system – that you can claim omniscient general knowledge because you have been inducted into the mystery – must crumble.

      It is quite something to find that you do not really know 99% of what you thought you knew!
      This is why, if you question a savant, you sometimes get, first amused condescension, then a number of inconsequential and unwitty putdowns, and finally an incoherent stream of rage and vileness.

    • Richard Woollaston permalink
      September 20, 2018 8:30 pm

      Some ideas:
      1. ‘Experts’ don’t like not to be able to provide cogent explanations of things, so latch onto simplistic explanations.
      2. The ‘science’ then becomes slave to the need to support these explanations.
      2. Politicians feel good if they can associate themselves with a ‘good’ cause such as dealing with global warming; it also provides a platform for political action.
      3. Academic institutions attach themselves to the sources of research funding such causes generate.
      4. Businesses attach themselves to sources of subsidy intended to remedy the problem.
      5. When it all goes wrong there is nobody in whose interest it is to speak out.

      • A C Osborn permalink
        September 21, 2018 11:06 am

        Sorry, one word describes it
        The other word that describes it is

  3. September 20, 2018 7:35 pm

    The only “New Normal” is hurricane porn on TV.

  4. September 20, 2018 7:43 pm

    I expect the BBC to break the habit of a lifetime and come out with all the true facts about the cause and the impact of Hurricane Florence any day now. I’ll let everyone know when the BBC informs us of the truth.

    • September 21, 2018 9:46 am

      Don’t hold your breath waiting.

  5. Nancy Spalding permalink
    September 20, 2018 8:07 pm

    I appreciate the context– I live in Greenville (north of the flooding), though I have students and friends to the south and east who were hard hit. I knew much of the hysteria was “click bait” but you never really know what they will do. this is very thorough.

  6. John F. Hultquist permalink
    September 20, 2018 8:09 pm

    Nice post. Thanks.
    Where we live (central Washington State) the annual precipitation is about 9 inches, part rain and part snow. SE of us 60 miles the annual is about 5 inches.
    For those folks in S. C. this likely will be the storm they remember — unless they are extremely unlucky.
    Had we resided there, we would have gone to Nashville for a week and visited music venues.
    To those that could not leave — sorry.
    To those that could have left, and did not ….. …. .

  7. Tim Spence permalink
    September 20, 2018 8:32 pm

    Thorough examination Paul, it’s the law of records, every day there’s a record this or record that somewhere on earth, especially when the records go back to our middle-age or childhood. That’s not climate it’s weather.

    Remember the Sheffield floods 2007, I had a business in ’tweretwatterrunsortweir’ from 1974 to1992 but I always knew it would happen one day. The previous great flood was somewhere around 1864 when a dam burst, killed 3,000.

  8. MrGrimNasty permalink
    September 20, 2018 8:35 pm

    The significance of ‘records’ is way overplayed.

    In the modern satellite era it’s easy to identify areas that frequently (e.g. geographical reasons) get extremes. So you work out where to place thermometers and rain gauges and now wind gauges; sit back, and wait for a record.

    Even with long standing sites, the capture of records is just pure chance. Actual records can be very localized, it’s just random chance if one is captured or not. There are very big holes in the net.

  9. Broadlands permalink
    September 20, 2018 9:16 pm

    And recall that Super Storm “Sandy” arrived as a category 1, if not just a tropical storm.

    “True to form, the media have been whipping up a state of hysteria…” and while they do they totally ignore the fact that nothing at all will happen in less than at least a hundred years if we stop using carbon for energy tomorrow. People seem to want to believe that eliminating carbon will magically stop the Earth’s climate in its tracks, extreme weather will disappear, the coral reefs will be saved along with polar bears and the Pacific atolls and beaches in Miami. Amazing.

  10. September 20, 2018 9:55 pm

    Several would-be storm reporters have taken to social media to emulate the hapless Weather Channel reporter whose faking of wind strength was exposed by people walking around normally in the video background.

    • September 21, 2018 12:32 pm

      This is funny, but not. These are based on actual footage showing “wind” with folks strolling along at the back of the video. Another had reporters, including CNN’s Anderson Cooper in what looked like waist high water. They had found a ditch and again, folks behind them several yards were strolling on pavement.

      People will begin to not take any of it seriously and ignore the warnings when it is serious. Where will the fakers be when people die?

      • September 21, 2018 1:37 pm

        Joan, the humor is in the absolute delight of these folks getting back at the national media. They have long known that the images and stories put out by mass media do not show their everyday realities. They are demonstrating by parody that what you see in the “lame stream media” can not be taken at face value. That fact is a tragic squandering of public trust built up over many decades of reasonably accurate and balanced new reporting. As for accessing facts about upcoming weather, they have also learned to trust other sources like the Hurricane center.

  11. September 20, 2018 10:46 pm

    Nice work Paul. I agree with your assessment completely and I have tracked all the Atlantic Basin tropical cyclones as a hobby since I turned 11 in 1963.

  12. September 21, 2018 1:20 am

    But hasn’t the science of climate science shown that fossil fuel emissions intensify hurricanes by raising sst and that hurrucane intensification can be moderated by cutting emissions?

    • Broadlands permalink
      September 21, 2018 1:53 am

      No they haven’t. What they have done is play with and adjust computer models and the data they put in them until they predict that is what will happen…unless we act soon? To do what?Fund more research and bamboozle politicians at climate change conferences while calling others denialists or worse.

    • September 21, 2018 8:27 am

      I believe that hurricanes are very complex beasts, many variables have to be right to form and sustain them, sea temperature is just one of those variables, not sufficient to allow prediction of future hurricane frequency/strength.

  13. September 21, 2018 5:34 am

    Reblogged this on Climate Collections.

  14. Europeanonion permalink
    September 21, 2018 9:02 am

    Paul, I thought you had been a bit quiet over the last couple of days now I see what you were cooking. I think you get your doctorate with this one.

  15. September 21, 2018 9:57 am

    Reblogged this on Tallbloke's Talkshop and commented:
    The blog post title speaks for itself. Alarmists can’t accept natural variation, so use false logic to try and claim that any weather characteristic which wasn’t exactly like the last few hurricanes must be somehow man-made.

  16. September 21, 2018 12:27 pm

    Hurricane Florence turned out to be more of a rain/water event than wind event. When you are looking at such a storm days out, as competent climatologists say, it seldom goes where predicted and as predicted. Florence did not come ashore where originally predicted nor as high a category as originally predicted several days out.

    The bad news is that the coastal plain is flat and there is just no where for the water to go with any speed. As President Trump told people when he was in South Carolina, their worst was yet to come as the rivers were going to dump a huge amount of water from the heavy rains upriver.

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