NC has been hit by the harsh extremes of climate change from the mountains to the coast. Drought, flooding, unpredictable rain events, and wildfires have plagued the state in historic proportions. Learning more about how your community could be affected and preparing ahead for potential climate extremes is encouraged. Exceptional weather events highlight the need for a movement away from fossil fuel dependent energy production practices.
The destruction in communities in eastern NC from Hurricane Matthew is historic and overwhelming. Flooding occurred as the result of 6 to 18 inches of rain that fell in eastern North Carolina during the hurricane. Peak totals were recorded at 18.38 inches near Elizabethtown, NC. Many communities of color or low-income communities are still feeling the flooding’s effects. Flooded hog lagoons and farms impact nearby eastern NC communities as a result of mass flooding.
Hurricane Matthew was also responsible for a breach of coal ash impoundments. Hazards posed by decades of dumping coal ash in unlined pits were exposed during the catastrophic rain event. By products of coal ash, containing toxic metals were washed downstream at the HF Lee plant in Goldsboro, NC.
Contaminated flood water and damages to water treatment plants are worrisome to many folks living in eastern NC. Some places, such as Lumberton, have been without clean tap water for weeks. Private well users should test their wells if they were submerged; for information on free Hurricane Matthew well test kits that will be available through county health departments click here.
Central and eastern NC have been experiencing unusually high rainfall in the spring and summer, but parts of western NC have been suffering from “extreme” or “exceptional” drought conditions. As a result, communities have been devastated by water scarcity and wildfires. During any stage of drought, residents are encouraged to refrain from nonessential uses of water. The North Carolina Drought Management Advisory Council added extreme and exceptional drought stages to its state classifications in August 2016. Drought statuses are updated weekly at ncdrought.org.
Despite a few recent rain events in western NC, the NC Forestry Service has kept an open burn ban for 47 NC counties. The Forestry Service lists the burn ban status of each county. If you see an illegal burn, the NC forestry service advises that you contact 911. Widespread wildfires have engulfed more than 50,000 acres in western NC. The western NC wildfires have also resulted in poor air quality measurements statewide. Air quality data is updated daily by the Department of Environmental Quality. NC air quality information and forecast can be viewed by region.
NC’s General Assembly has unanimously passed a bill for cleanup and repairs following Hurricane Matthew and mountain wildfires, in a recent special session. The proposal is for a $201 million dollar fund designed to get more displaced residents into housing, give local governments help building infrastructure and provide the state forest service money for firefighting expenses. Critics of the bill argue that the legislation does not include some of the most effective methods for individual assistance that were implemented following hurricane Floyd in 1999.
The State Climate Office updates a high resolution drought trigger tool, weekly. Areas across NC have been classified in the most extreme categories of both exceptional dryness and wetness. High resolution mapping illustrates the alarming impacts of climate change in NC. The State Climate Office creates the maps by comparing historical and real-time data from the National Weather Service to calculate a color coded Schedule Performance Index (SPI). See mapping and updated information on NC flood and drought estimates here.