Florence vs. Fran: a comparison

With Hurricane Florence likely to make landfall somewhere on the coast of South Carolina, North Carolina or Virginia, people are raiding the grocery stores for water and non-perishable foods. The official National Hurricane Center forecast track as of 11:00 this morning shows the center of the cone of uncertainty near Wilmington and Florence being a major hurricane – category 3 or higher – at landfall. Many who have lived in this area for years are starting to compare the forecast track to Hurricane Fran, and with good reason, and that may be why locals are taking this one so seriously.

There is another similarity to Fran that could be cause for concern: the soil saturation level. A friend at the Southeast Regional Climate Center shared some data with me this morning comparing the soil saturation at the end of August this year versus in the same time in 1996 a few days before Fran hit. (See the charts below.)

Since that data is for the end of August, and we are 10 days into September, I also looked at the calculated soil moisture as of today from the Climate Prediction Center, and it appears the eastern half of the country is still on the wet side.

Saturated soil plus heavy rain and high winds are what brought the oaks down across Raleigh during Fran. It’s definitely a concern for those of us with yards full of trees, especially oak trees.

Heavy rain is a real possibility with weather models calling for anything from one to four feet. Where the highest totals will happen is still up in the air because each model is putting the bullseye in a different part of the state. The Weather Prediction Center has the bulk of the rain falling in eastern NC as of this morning, but that may change tomorrow.

As the date and time of landfall gets closer, the models will have a better handle on where that will be, how strong the winds will be, and where the bulk of the rain will fall. Until then, don’t panic, and especially don’t panic over maps that people on social media are sharing that only show what one model out of dozens says might happen. Chances are, it’s not accurate. Follow the updates from the National Hurricane Center and our local National Weather Service office.

Panic won’t help. Preparation will.

Personally, I’ve decided to do what I can to mitigate possibly flooding of my crawl space, make sure anything that might blow away is secured, and make sure I’m stocked up on supplies. The rest is up to a higher power. It’s easy to get wrapped up in worry over my trees coming down, roof damage, or a leaky shed, but there’s not much I can do to stop the rain and wind from coming despite what powers people seem to think meteorologists have over the weather.

We’re all in the same boat here…

I hope I don’t need a boat.

RDU rainfall comparisons

A comparison of the precipitation accumulations for the summer of 1996, 2018, and the 30 year average at RDU.


comparison at NCSU

A comparison of the precipitation accumulations for the summer of 1996, 2018, and the 30 year average at the NCSU coop reporting station.

CPC soil moisture

The Climate Prediction Center’s map of Calculated Soil Moisture for September 9, 2018.




The Weather Prediction Center’s forecast total rainfall for Monday, September 10, 2018 through Monday, September 17, 2018.