At peak of hurricane season, nothing but thunderstorms so far

Published 3:00 pm Friday, August 23, 2019

The anniversary of Hurricane Florence is quickly approaching, as is peak hurricane season for eastern North Carolina. For now, the only severe weather approaching is a cold front and possible heavy rain through the weekend, but according to Chris Newkirk, Beaufort County Emergency Services fire and emergency management operations chief, now is the time to prepare.

“There’s a lot of things we can be doing now to be better prepared if we have a storm. We just have to have that mindset of being ready,” Newkirk said. “The next month, month and a half, we’re just going to have to stay alert to what’s happening in the Atlantic Basin and be prepared.”

Newkirk said two things stand out in the season so far this year. The first is the effect of a weakened El Nino weather pattern; the second, how unusually quiet the season has been until now. A strong El Nino is favorable for the Atlantic, as a stronger vertical wind shear and trade winds mean fewer hurricanes; a weak El Nino creates less atmospheric stability and the possibility of more hurricanes, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. On Aug. 8, NOAA declared El Nino of 2019 “officially done,” which sparked many conversations about the ramifications.

“They said, ‘Hey, we’re starting to reconsider what to expect this hurricane season. … Are we now going to experience more storms?’” Newkirk said. “It’s possible. I don’t know. I really think a lot of that, as far as storm predictions, is best guess.”

Newkirk pointed out that by this day in 2017, emergency management officials in eastern North Carolina had already watched and worried over three hurricanes. Only three named storms have formed this season. The third, Chantal, has weakened to a tropical depression in the North Atlantic.

“It has been abnormally quiet when you compare it to recent years,” Newkirk said. “I hope that’s a good sign. … I have to say, I hope it’s quiet. I hope we don’t have one, but oftentimes hopes and realities can be different.”

As for the weekend, Beaufort County could be in for a drenching, increasing the chances of flash flooding. Newkirk said the same principals apply to flash flooding as hurricane flooding.

“That message ‘Turn around, don’t drown,’ that applies to our heavy showers as it much as it does to hurricanes,” Newkirk said. “It doesn’t take much to float a car. If you can’t see the road beneath the water, how do you even know a road exists? No one in North Carolina died because of Hurricane Florence. Every fatality we had from Florence was people driving into flood waters — every death. It’s not worth it. Don’t chance driving through it.”