BILLINGS- As Hurricane Florence bears down on the East Coast, millions of Americans brace for the impact of the season’s first major hurricane to make landfall on the continental United States.
Preparations for this type of disaster spread much further than the storm’s predicted impact, even as far as Billings.
Dave Pauli works for the Humane Society in Billings and has a history of being in the thick of the action for recovery of major storms.
Pauli said his “bags are packed” and he fully expects to be on his way to the Carolinas in the near future. He also said that there are multiple teams from the Montana chapter of the Humane Society on standby, should they be needed to help in Hurricane Florence’s aftermath.
The forecast track for the hurricane has stayed fairly consistent over the last week or so, but as of the most recent forecast Wednesday there have been some small changes. Florence is forecast to almost stall near the shore as the steering level winds break down at the time of landfall.
What this means is that the storm could linger over certain areas for a very long time, which means the potential for torrential rainfall and flash flooding is very high.
Right now, model runs are forecasting precipitation totals approaching 40 inches in some areas, and greater than 20 inches over a widespread region.
To put that in perspective, Billings receives an average of around 14 inches of rain each year and about 55 inches of snow. That 55 inches of snow equates to about 5.5 inches of water, for a total yearly precipitation figure of fewer than 20 inches.
This means that over the next few days, a huge area encompassing parts of North and South Carolina could see more rainfall than we see here in an entire year.
What’s more staggering is that rainfall will likely not be the most impactful part of the storm. That distinction belongs to the storm surge, which is forecast to inundate the coast with up to 10 additional feet of water.
Storm surge is the rising of water levels based on the immense force of the hurricane’s winds pushing water toward the coast and piling it up on top of itself, raising the water levels. This, in turn, can interact with tidal patterns to push massive amounts of water on shore.
I spoke to meteorologist Shane Hinton from New Bern, N.C., and asked him what forecasters are telling residents in preparation for Florence.
“Many evacuations have been called for coastal communities. We are encouraging residents who live near high flood zones (next to the coast and rivers) to consider finding higher ground as we are expecting the main concern to be with flooding/ storm surge,” said Hinton.
Pauli also expects the majority of aid work to be slack water rescue in response to widespread flooding. However, he also says that you never quite know what will be the biggest area of need.