Researchers warn of more intense storms this hurricane season


GREENVILLE, N.C. (WNCT) — With an already active hurricane season, researchers are warning Eastern North Carolina could continue to see intense storms.

“These storms have become gigantic rain machines,” said Hans Paerl, a marine and environmental sciences professor at the UNC Institute of Marine Sciences. “Florence, Matthew, and Floyd which covered half the state in rain.”

A couple of feet of rain during a tropical system is becoming the norm, but the number is catching scientist’s eyes.

“If you look at the record, it turns out six of the seven wettest storms occurred over the last 20 years,” said Paerl.

These storms are getting more intense.

“The ocean is fuel for hurricanes and the ocean surface temperature is heating up so that’s one of the main reasons they’re getting stronger,” said Rick Luettich, the director of UNC IMS.

Climate change is to blame.

These slow, powerful storms produce more rain and wind, adding to the flood risk.

“When you get a storm surge, it’s not just that slow-moving water that’s all around you … all of a sudden the waves that are coming ashore and crashing on the shore are hitting structures,” said Luettich.

Flooding doesn’t just hurt businesses and people, it can damage natural areas too. In some cases, it takes ecosystems years to recover.

“What we need to do is create a better situation to retain nutrients and contaminants on land to keep them from flowing into our sensitive waterways and causing water quality problems,” said Paerl.

Paerl said individuals can do things to limit the impacts of flooding on the environment. They can plant buffers of native plants along agricultural fields or in urban areas to help with runoff and create artificial wetlands to help runoff and process nutrients.

Planting native vegetation, updating septic systems, and thinking twice about fertilizer can also help the area around you during a flood event. Many cities and towns across Eastern North Carolina are investing in long-term mitigation plans to reduce flooding and ecological impacts.

Researchers say, the time to protect the coast is now.

“Living on the coast, there are some areas we just don’t have forever to live on, and the more steps we take today to protect ourselves, the safer we are tomorrow,” said Luettich.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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