Hurricane Hunter Comes to North Carolina May 6-7

One of the world’s premier research aircraft, a NOAA WP-3D Orion Hurricane Hunter, will make two appearances in North Carolina this spring.

The Hurricane Hunter will be on display at the Raleigh-Durham International Airport (RDU) on May 6 and at the Wilmington International Airport (ILM) on May 7 as part of the National Weather Service’s (NWS) 2009 East Coast Hurricane Awareness Tour. Local schools, community groups, media, elected officials and the public are invited to participate. Public tours will be given at both airports from 3 to 5 p.m. on the respective days.

One of two Orion Hurricane Hunters, the aircraft on display is used for hurricane research and reconnaissance, as well as for other meteorological, oceanographic and environmental research programs. Data collected during hurricanes are fed into computer models to provide more accurate forecasts about hurricane intensity and landfall.

For more information on the Raleigh event, including tour times and parking, contact Jeff Orrock of NWS at 919/515-8209, ext. 223 or In Wilmington, contact Steven Pfaff of NWS at 910/762-4209 or – K.A.

Sea Grant Seeks Floyd Stories
Varied events mark 10th anniversary

North Carolina Sea Grant is planning a special autumn issue of Coastwatch to commemorate the 10-year anniversary of Hurricane Floyd, and we want to hear from you.

From now through the end of June, we invite readers to share their personal stories about outstanding volunteer, community and individual efforts during Hurricane Floyd and its aftermath. We’d also like to hear about any lasting changes the storm left on people, businesses and communities. Please submit your stories and pictures to, or mail them to: North Carolina Sea Grant/Floyd Stories, NCSU, Box 8605, Flex Lab Building 1, 1575 Varsity Drive, Raleigh, NC 27695.

Some entries will be published in our fall issue, and others may be posted on a special section of our Web site,

Sea Grant also is working with partners on Floyd-related projects this year, including several events across the region.

East Carolina University will host a Hurricane Floyd Symposium on Sept. 17 and 18 in Greenville. Sessions will include a look at the impacts on and recovery by communities, as well as the improvements in forecasting and other scientific advances in the past decade.

The symposium is being organized by the ECU Center for Natural Hazards Research, headed by Jamie Kruse. For more information, visit

The National Weather Service will have multiple events marking the anniversary. The Morehead City/Newport Weather Forecast Office will host a seminar March 18 in Greenville as part of Flood Awareness Week. The program will be at the Science and Nature Center at River Park North from 9 a.m. to noon.

The Raleigh Weather Forecast Office is planning an event June 6 at the N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences.

NWS also has a Web site with information on the impact of Hurricane Floyd in North Carolina and across several states. Go to: – K.A. & K.M.

2008 Record Year for Atlantic Hurricanes

With the 2009 Atlantic hurricane season approaching, many wonder how the East Coast will fare after last year’s series of brutal storms. The 2008 season was one of the most active seasons in more than 60 years, according to the NOAA National Hurricane Center. It ranked as the fourth busiest Atlantic storm season since 1944.

A total of 16 named storms formed during the 2008 season, from June 1 to Nov. 30. Five of the eight hurricanes recorded were major, meaning they ranked at Category 3 strength or higher. Three hurricanes — Dolly, Ike and Gustav — made landfall in the United States.

Last year was the 10th season to produce above-normal activity in the Atlantic during the past 14 years, according to NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center. Damage caused by the 2008 storms reached an estimated $54 billion, second to 2005, when Hurricanes Katrina and Rita ravaged the Gulf coast, the National Climatic Data Center reports.

Hurricane Ike was the most destructive, pummeling neighborhoods in Texas, as the state was still recovering from Hurricane Dolly. Hurricane Gustav spread destruction from Haiti to Louisiana. Soon after, Haiti was further devastated with floods from Hurricane Hanna before it turned north to soak North and South Carolina as a tropical storm.

NOAA will issue its 2009 Atlantic Hurricane Outlook in May. – K.A.

NC Flood Maps Setting National Standard

A recent report calls for updates to the Federal Emergency Management Agency flood maps to provide high-accuracy and high-resolution land-surface elevation data.

“The N.C. Floodplain Mapping Program was selected as the model for where we are heading nationally,” explains Spencer Rogers, North Carolina Sea Grant’s coastal erosion and construction specialist and a member of the panel assembled by the National Research Council (NRC).

John Dorman, director of the N.C. Floodplain Mapping Program (NCFMP), also served on the national panel.

“We were very pleased that the NRC study chose to leverage and analyze the data, methodology, models and experience that our state has acquired through the floodplain mapping program,” he notes.

Since 2000, NCFMP within the N.C. Division of Emergency Management has updated the maps for all 100 counties and the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. The program — established by then Gov. James B. Hunt and the N.C. General Assembly as a direct response to the devastating floods caused by Hurricane Floyd in 1999 — was directed to acquire, generate and maintain new elevation data, stream studies and digital Flood Insurance Rate Maps (DFIRMs) statewide.

Toward this goal, through 2008, the State of North Carolina has invested $69.81 million that has enabled the program to leverage or draw down approximately $73.59 million in federal funds.

Overall, the NRC panel determined that the benefits of more accurate flood maps will outweigh the costs, mainly because insurance premiums and building restrictions would better match the actual flood risks. Coastal region flood maps could also be improved by updating current models and using two-dimensional storm surge and wave models.

Flood maps are used by FEMA to set flood insurance rates, regulate floodplain development, and inform those who live in the “100-year” floodplain of potential hazards. The maps require continuous maintenance and revision due to land development and natural changes to the landscape. In North Carolina and across the country, local officials also use the maps when considering development proposals.

FEMA’s Map Modernization Program of 2003 to 2008 resulted in digital flood maps for 92 percent of the continental U.S. population, most living in areas that had outdated maps or no maps at all. However, after a $1 billion investment, only 21 percent of the population has maps that meet all of FEMA’s data quality standards.

For this reason, FEMA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration asked the NRC to examine the factors that affect flood map accuracy; assess the costs and benefits of producing more accurate maps; and recommend ways to improve mapping, communication, and management of flood-related data. In response, the committee collected and analyzed information on selected streams in Florida and North Carolina. The panel also reviewed the costs and benefits of creating new digital flood maps in North Carolina, which was the first cooperating technical state in the FEMA effort.

Information from NCFMP allowed the committee to compare new and traditional mapping methods among three distinct topographical regions: mountains, rolling hills and coastal plains.

Although improvements to inland flood maps can focus on harnessing available technology, coastal flood maps could be improved by employing better models that enhance understanding of the coastal flooding process. The panel recommended improving the accuracy of base flood elevations by replacing FEMA’s one-dimensional model for calculating wave heights — introduced in the 1970s — with a two-dimensional storm surge and wave models. Further enhancements could come by coupling these models with improved models that account for erosion processes and wave heights.

“The report also recommends lowering the mapped threshold for wave damage to buildings. Rather than using 3-foot breaking waves, the panel suggests using 1.5-foot waves, based on research conducted at NC State University,” explains Rogers, who co-authored sections on erosion, wave damage and storm-surge. The NRC report also recommends implementing a new mapping zone identifying storm-induced and long-term erosion hazards to more accurately identify the coastal hazards for insurance and construction standards applications.

FEMA’s transition to digital flood mapping also provides opportunities for better informing the public of flood hazards and risks through maps and Web-based products, the panel noted.

Copies of Mapping the Zone: Improving Flood Map Accuracy are available from the National Academies Press; call 202/334-3313 or 800/624-6242 or go online to

For more information on the N. C. Floodplain Mapping Program, go online to

Read more about North Carolina’s response to the floods of Hurricane Floyd in a special issue of Coastwatch later this year.

This article was published in the Spring 2009 issue of Coastwatch.

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