By Eric Davis | June 2, 2020 at 6:00 AM EDT – Updated June 2 at 9:37 AM
WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) – When you typically think about how dangerous a hurricane is, the first thing most people point to is the storm’s category — or the Saffir-Simpson scale.
But the scale simply measures the wind intensity of a hurricane — while leaving out the storm’s size, speed and wind-field. It also doesn’t account for other impacts like storm surge, tornadoes and most importantly — flooding.
All of these factors play a role in how devastating the impact will be.
While a Category 5 storm is very dangerous — it’s important to remember southeast North Carolina has seen serious impacts from storms on the lower-end of the scale.
Hurricane Matthew taught us this lesson in October 2016. The storm was only listed as a Category 1 and never made landfall here. However its intense rainfall ended up killing 28 people, brought record or near record flooding to many of our rivers and caused one-point-five billion dollars in damage.
Of course, Hurricane Florence is a case study on how a category doesn’t define impact.
The Category 1 storm made landfall near Wrightsville Beach — but because of it’s sheer size and extremely slow movement — it stalled for three days over the Cape Fear region.
Starting on September 14, 2018 — Florence unloaded nearly three feet of rain in some places — washing out most highways throughout the area –and effectively cutting Wilmington off from the mainland for days. Then the torrential downpours were followed by an outbreak of devastating tornadoes. When it was all said and done — 54 people died and 24 billion dollars in damage came from another Category 1 Hurricane.
Even last year, Hurricane Dorian produced 14 tornadoes in southeast North Carolina. Portions of Brunswick and New Hanover counties saw a foot of rain, but thankfully the flooding issues were not quite as bad this time around.
High categories on the Saffir-Simpson scale always get our attention. However recent damage from “low” category storms reminds us it is not about the category but the impact a storm is capable of. That is what we focus on in the WECT First Alert Weather Center.
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