WILMINGTON, NC (WECT) - Nov. 30 marks the official end of Atlantic Hurricane Season. It’s been a historic year with 15 total named storms including eight hurricanes and two major hurricanes.
First Alert Chief Meteorologist Gannon Medwick has been fielding many hurricane questions from across the Cape Fear Region in recent weeks. Here are his answers to your top three most-asked questions:
1. Was the season worse than expected?
Most pre-season predictions, including the one from NOAA, featured average to slightly above-average Atlantic storm activity. An average Atlantic Hurricane Season produces twelve total named storms including six hurricanes and two major hurricanes.
2. Will the storm name “Florence” be retired?
Almost certainly yes.
A tropical storm and hurricane name resurfaces every six years unless the World Meteorological Organization retires it. A storm name will be retired if the storm was exceptionally damaging and / or deadly – and Florence fits the criteria.
The list of tropical systems that affected the Cape Fear Region and whose names have been retired is extensive. It includes Matthew, Charley, Floyd, Fran, and Hazel.
Florence will very likely join this list. We’ll know for sure this winter.
3. How much worse would Florence have been if it made landfall as a Cat. 4?
It’s hard to say.
You may recall that, when it made its September 14 Wrightsville Beach landfall, Florence was officially a Cat. 1 hurricane. However, in many of the days before Florence’s arrival, the National Hurricane Center had projected the storm to be a Cat. 3 or higher at landfall.
Remember, the Saffir-Simpson 1-5 storm category scale is based on one metric and one metric only: maximum sustained winds. Categories don’t account for wind gusts. Categories don’t serve as a proxy for rainfall and tidal surge. And a storm category certainly won’t tell a storm’s areal size, speed, or angle of incidence on the coast.
Hurricane Florence may have “only” had 90 mph (Cat. 1) maximum sustained winds at the time of its landfall, but the storm was epic by almost every other measure.
Florence’s 105 mph maximum gust at Wilmington was the Port City’s second strongest gust ever. Florence’s 12-24 and locally 36 inches of rainfall, and the horrific river flooding that resulted, exceeded Matthew and Floyd benchmarks. Florence was an extraordinarily large and excruciatingly slow hurricane that moved into the Cape Fear Region directly from the east – all factors that amplified the storm’s impacts.
So, it’s hard to say how much and in what ways Hurricane Florence would have been worse if it had been able to maintain a higher Saffir-Simpson category at landfall. All that can be said for sure is that Hurricane Florence was bad enough, a generational storm as it was. Florence was a storm that outperformed its relatively minimal category.