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Hurricane Florence Brings Devastating Flooding, Damaging Winds and Storm Surge to the Carolinas

At a Glance

  • Florence first developed near the Cabo Verde Islands off the coast of Africa.
  • It became a Category 4 hurricane twice while in the Atlantic.
  • Florence made landfall in North Carolina as a Category 1 hurricane.
  • The hurricane caused devastating flooding, major storm surge flooding and damaging winds.

Hurricane Florence brought historic flooding, damaging winds and storm surge to parts of the Carolinas in September 2018 after roaming through the Atlantic basin for about two weeks.

Storm Formation and History

Tropical Depression Six formed late on Aug. 31, then was named Tropical Storm Florence the next day in the far eastern Atlantic Ocean.

On Sept. 5, Florence became a Category 4 hurricane after rapidly intensifying over the open Atlantic Ocean.


Wind shear then weakened Florence back to a tropical storm late on Sept. 6.

Florence underwent rapid intensification a second time when its winds jumped up from 75 mph to 130 mph in just 25 hours ending 12 p.m. EDT Sept. 10.

Florence made landfall near Wrightsville, North Carolina, at 7:15 a.m. EDT Sept. 14 with maximum sustained winds around 90 mph.

Catastrophic Flooding

Several locations preliminarily topped North Carolina’s tropical cyclone rainfall record, including a report of 35.93 inches near Elizabethtown, North Carolina. The previous record was 24.06 inches from Hurricane Floyd in 1999.

Florence also appears to have set a preliminary tropical cyclone rainfall record in South Carolina. Loris reported a storm total of 23.63 inches of rain through early Sept. 17. The previous record was 17.45 inches from Tropical Storm Beryl in 1994.

After receiving such extreme amounts of rain, major to record river flooding developed in the Carolinas.

At least five river gauges observed record flooding, topping what was seen in Hurricane Matthew (2016) and Hurricane Floyd (1999).


– N.E. Cape Fear River at Chinquapin, North Carolina: This location set a new record flood level on Sept. 16, topping the previous record of 23.5 feet from Hurricane Floyd in 1999.

– N.E. Cape Fear River at Burgaw, North Carolina: The river topped 23.7 feet Sept. 17, breaking the previous record at this location, set by Hurricane Floyd in 1999.

 Trent River at Trenton, North Carolina: A new record crest was set on Sept. 16, surpassing Hurricane Floyd’s flood level of 28.42 feet.

– Little River at Manchester, North Carolina: Record flooding began on Sept. 16, crushing Hurricane Matthew’s previous record flood level of 32.19 feet.

– Black River near Tomahawk, North Carolina: Record flooding began Sept. 17, topping Matthew’s flood level of 27.92 feet.

Some other notable river gauges include the following.

​​​​​​– Lumber River at Lumberton, North Carolina: The level came close to Hurricane Matthew’s record of 24.39 feet at its last observation on Sept. 16. It’s unclear if a record was set.

– Cape Fear River at Fayetteville, North Carolina: Crested Sept. 19 just over 2 feet higher than the crest during Matthew, the highest level there since the record flood from September 1945.

Florence’s rain vaulted Wilmington, North Carolina, to its wettest year on record, topping the previous record-wet year set in 1877, with still over three months to go in 2018.

This torrential rain also flooded and shut down stretches of Interstate 95 in both North and South Carolina and Interstate 40 north of Wilmington.

Heavy rain from Florence spread into parts of the Northeast Sept. 17-18, triggering significant flash flooding in parts of Maryland, New York and Pennsylvania.

In Itaska and Lowman, New York, an evacuation of a home was needed due to flooding. Evacuations were also necessary in Ridgebury Township, Pennsylvania.

Heavy rain Sept. 18 flooded underpasses in Fitchburg, Massachusetts, and flooded a basement in Lunenburg, Massachusetts. Streets were also flooded in the Boston area.

Wind Reports

Wind gusts reached as high as 106 mph at Cape Lookout, North Carolina, late Sept. 13 while a 105-mph gust was reported at Fort Macon, North Carolina.

On the morning of Sept. 14, Wilmington, North Carolina, recorded a wind gust to 105 mph, the second-strongest wind on record there. A wind gust to 100 mph was reported at Cape Fear, North Carolina, and a buoy about 50 miles to the east of the center of Florence’s eye reported a wind gust to 112 mph.

In South Carolina, Charleston measured a 53-mph gust Sept. 14, and there was a gust to 55 mph at Fort Sumter.

A complete list of wind gusts compiled by the National Weather Service can be found here.

Surge Reports

Overwash of the dunes at the “S” curves on Highway 12 near Rodanthe in the Outer Banks began on Sept. 13.

On the night of Sept. 13, a storm surge of 10 feet above normal levels was reported by the National Weather Service office in Morehead City, North Carolina, at the Cherry Branch Ferry Terminal on the Neuse River, courtesy of the North Carolina Department of Transportation.

A gauge at Oriental, North Carolina, on the Neuse River recorded a water height of about 6 feet above normal tide levels late Sept. 13.

A 10.1-foot storm surge was recorded very early Sept. 14 in New Bern.

A record tide level was set at Beaufort, North Carolina, early Sept. 14, topping levels seen during Hazel (1954) and Floyd (1999), among others, with a reading of 7.28 feet.

In nearby Wrightsville Beach, the record tide level set during the 2015 flood event was topped.

Florence helped push water up against the coast as far north as the Chesapeake Bay Sept. 14. Minor flooding had been reported in Maryland, which reported water levels 2.7 feet above normal.


Significant damage was reported in parts of the Richmond, Virginia, area Sept. 17, when at least 13 reports of tornadoes were tallied by the National Weather Service.

The NWS surveyed the damage and assigned the deadly Midlothian, Virginia, tornado a rating of EF2 on the Enhanced Fujita scale. The NWS said the twister packed estimated maximum winds of 115 to 125 mph. It was on the ground for 7.5 miles and caused damage in a 350-yard-wide path.

Alexander Gruysson