Carolinas brace for flooding after Florence

Authorities warn that the damage from Florence is far from over as the flood danger continues to be an imminent threat to the Carolinas.

Posted: Sep 17, 2018 2:49 PM
Updated: Sep 17, 2018 3:32 PM

As we write, Florence is slamming into the Carolinas. State, local and federal emergency planners have been working around the clock for the past week to prepare their communities and citizens to deal with this powerful storm.

The governors of North and South Carolina and the mayors of Wilmington and Myrtle Beach told their citizens and tourists along the coasts to evacuate to higher ground in advance of the flooding and storm surge. Nearly 2 million people were under mandatory and voluntary evacuations orders.

The National Guard and the Coast Guard have been providing search and rescue services. And the media, both traditional and social, are broadcasting non-stop real-time updates as the storm blankets the coast. All of this advance planning was possible because the science and technology that goes into predicting hurricanes have gotten steadily better for decades. We now have much better forecasts than we used to, available further in advance.

Better forecasts give local officials more timely information, allowing them and their citizens to make life-saving decisions. If Florence had hit the Carolinas 30 years ago, the accuracy of the track forecast two days ahead of time would have been about the same as that for the five-day forecast today. Whatever the final death toll from Florence, it would almost certainly have been substantially larger back then, even though there are many more people living in the areas at risk today.

How did we get forecasts good enough to give us a week to prepare for storms such as Florence? It may feel like they are free, because as individuals we don't see a bill for them. But they aren't free. They are the result of sustained public investment in scientific research and education.

According to the American Association for the Advancement of Science, in inflation-adjusted dollars, federal support for university-based research increased from around $8 billion per year in the 1960s to more than $30 billion today.

Federal agencies have long supported basic research in mathematics and the physical sciences, computer science and engineering, and the geosciences. That basic research forms the foundation that enables the development of sophisticated models that can simulate the atmosphere with amazing fidelity.

Key components of that foundation today include the powerful supercomputers needed to run the models; satellites, radar, and other instruments carried on airplanes, balloons and other platforms that make the key observations the models need to start their predictions; and, equally important, an understanding of how the atmosphere and ocean work, separately and together.

For example, beginning with Ed Lorenz's work on chaos theory in the 1960s, scientists have worked out how and why the weather is unpredictable beyond a week or two ahead of time. This understanding informs the data assimilation systems used to put observations into the prediction models, and the ensemble systems that run the same model over and over again to assess uncertainty, producing the "spaghetti diagrams" of multiple hurricane tracks that you can now find all over the internet when a storm is coming.

At our own Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, in the 1980s, Mark Cane and Steven Zebiak developed the first computer model capable of predicting El Nino events, and this led to the seasonal forecasts of climate variations -- including overall levels of hurricane activity, though not specific individual hurricanes -- that we now get months in advance.

All of these products of publicly funded research allow us to predict our weather and climate with the accuracy needed to save lives in the ways we are seeing now. The observations, models and computers -- all implemented by well-trained professionals who themselves are products of sustained public investments in education and training that have been made alongside the investments in research -- turn huge amounts of raw data into "actionable intelligence" to be used by businesses, local and state governments, and citizens.

Florence is a dangerous storm. It may devastate coastal communities and the barrier islands with wind, rain and storm surge. There have already been fatalities, and most likely, there will be more, and those deaths will be very visible in the media.

Of course, any number of deaths is tragic. But the good news -- though much less visible -- will be the much greater number of lives that have been saved by this nation's continuing investment in the underlying science and technology.

Huntsville
Clear
65° wxIcon
Hi: 81° Lo: 54°
Feels Like: 65°
Florence
Clear
67° wxIcon
Hi: 79° Lo: 57°
Feels Like: 67°
Fayetteville
Clear
59° wxIcon
Hi: 79° Lo: 52°
Feels Like: 59°
Decatur
Clear
62° wxIcon
Hi: 82° Lo: 54°
Feels Like: 62°
Scottsboro
Clear
57° wxIcon
Hi: 83° Lo: 57°
Feels Like: 57°
WAAY Radar
WAAY WAAY-TV Cam
WAAY Temperatures

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Confirmed Cases: 17952

Reported Deaths: 630
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Mobile2239116
Jefferson1837102
Montgomery171040
Tuscaloosa78315
Marshall6939
Franklin5567
Lee54833
Shelby51720
Tallapoosa42765
Butler41118
Chambers35525
Walker3542
Elmore3548
Madison3394
Baldwin2909
Morgan2801
Dallas2723
Etowah25711
DeKalb2483
Lowndes24612
Coffee2361
Sumter2247
Autauga2214
Houston2204
Bullock2095
Pike2030
Colbert1842
Hale1739
Russell1710
Marengo1706
Barbour1671
Lauderdale1642
Calhoun1603
Choctaw1538
Wilcox1487
Clarke1442
Cullman1430
Randolph1277
St. Clair1231
Marion12211
Pickens1164
Dale1150
Talladega1135
Limestone1060
Chilton1011
Greene944
Winston900
Macon824
Henry802
Covington801
Jackson782
Crenshaw753
Bibb751
Washington706
Escambia633
Blount621
Lawrence500
Geneva430
Conecuh411
Coosa401
Monroe402
Perry390
Cherokee373
Clay272
Lamar260
Fayette160
Cleburne151
Unassigned00

Tennessee Coronavirus Cases

Confirmed Cases: 22566

Reported Deaths: 364
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Davidson504062
Shelby4943111
Trousdale13924
Rutherford119623
Sumner88145
Hamilton79415
Bledsoe6071
Williamson55210
Putnam4795
Robertson4653
Tipton4423
Out of TN4184
Lake4140
Wilson4078
Knox3755
Bedford2834
Montgomery2693
Rhea2100
Hardeman1960
Madison1752
Loudon1430
McMinn14114
Macon1363
Cheatham1230
Bradley1221
Fayette1152
Cumberland1121
Dickson1090
Unassigned920
Blount913
Maury890
Sevier812
Washington750
Coffee730
Wayne640
Gibson631
Monroe622
Sullivan602
Hickman580
Lauderdale561
Franklin531
Greene502
Dyer500
Marion401
Anderson401
DeKalb370
Hamblen362
Smith341
White330
Hawkins332
Lawrence310
Grundy311
Haywood312
Marshall311
Obion301
Henry300
Jefferson280
Carroll271
Overton260
Meigs260
Weakley260
Lincoln250
Warren230
Cannon210
Perry210
Cocke200
Carter191
Campbell181
Morgan170
Jackson170
Crockett162
Roane160
Polk160
Johnson160
Henderson150
Hardin152
Sequatchie150
Humphreys131
Fentress120
McNairy120
Chester120
Giles120
Scott120
Stewart110
Claiborne90
Houston80
Grainger80
Clay70
Benton71
Decatur50
Unicoi40
Union40
Van Buren40
Lewis30
Pickett30
Moore30
Hancock10

 

 

Community Events