What should people in Charlotte be doing to get ready for Hurricane Florence?
The storm’s exact track is still uncertain, but given Florence’s size, power and projected path through central North Carolina, Charlotte is likely to see some impacts. That could range from a couple inches of rain, or more, to tropical storm-force winds starting Thursday, with flooding, downed trees and power outages possible.
Florence isn’t likely to prompt mass evacuations in Charlotte, as it has on the Carolinas coast, but here’s how to handle some of the problems the storm is likely to cause.
Should I drive in heavy rain and wind?
Law enforcement officers worry more about overblown trees and downed power lines that fall in roadways than about the sheer pushing force of the wind, said Sgt. Michael Baker, a spokesman for the State Highway Patrol.
Motorists should stay off the road if possible when storms start affecting specific areas, he said. The patrol is also asking that drivers avoid calling 911 about road conditions, but instead check drivenc.gov or download the ReadyNC mobile app for real-time road conditions.
AAA Carolinas urges motorists who must drive to take precautions such increasing the following distance to 5 or 6 seconds behind the car in front of you; packing an emergency kit in your car that includes a flashlight, first-aid kit, water, car charger for your phone, reflectors/flares and snacks; and reducing your speed to adjust for wet roads and the potentially destabilizing effect of high wind gusts.
“Avoid driving through flooded areas, even if you are familiar with the roads,” the company said in a statement. “The flooded area may contain dangers such as debris, tree branches or power lines that are not visible. The best thing you can do is turn around and find an alternate route.”
Will flooding be an issue?
As of Tuesday morning, the National Hurricane Center projected that Charlotte would get only about 2 inches of rain over the next seven days. But that’s just enough to flood some city streets.
Some roadways near creeks can flood within an hour or two of a hard rain, said Timothy Trautman, a program manager with Charlotte-Mecklenburg Storm Water Services. Examples: North Tryon Street at Atando Avenue, near Derita Branch, and Sharon Road at Chilton Place on Briar Creek.
“We’ll see street flooding with an intense 1”-2” downpour,” Trautman said by email. “We could see larger creeks overtop roadways with 3”-4” of rain in an hour.”
Many Charlotte creeks rise quickly when it rains, backing up water into neighborhoods that are in floodplains like Madison Park on Little Hope Creek and Abelwood on Stewart Creek, he added.
Simple steps can help minimize flooding. That includes clearing storm drains and any small creeks near your house of debris, as well as keeping your gutters and curb free of branches and leaves. “Clogged drains can cause flash flooding,” Storm Water Services said in a statement.
How much damage might the wind cause?
Tropical storm-force winds — 39 mph and higher — are expected to blow into Charlotte by Thursday morning. That’s right on the fringe of when trouble can begin.
The Beaufort wind scale that weather services use says cars may veer on the road when winds reach an average of about 42 mph. At 50 mph, wind can cause light structural damage. Sixty mph winds can topple trees and damage homes and other structures. At 70 mph, structural damage is widespread.
More than half the city-maintained trees lining streets in Charlotte’s older neighborhoods near uptown are already in only fair health, a 2015 Observer analysis of city data found.
How should I prepare at home?
Charlotte social media is already full of photos of bare store shelves, stripped of every last bottle of water. It’s clear that some in the city are taking preparation seriously and don’t want to be without water.
A storm can disrupt water supplies several ways. Charlotte Water told the Observer last year that hazards include roots from fallen trees damaging water pipes and overflows from the sewer system because of a large volume of floodwater. Those aren’t likely to cause widespread or long-lasting disruptions for Charlotte Water customers, however.
The utility has backup plans in place, spokeswoman Jennifer Frost said, and the municipal water supply still functions if customers lose power at home (People on well water will likely lose water if they lose power, since wells need electricity for their pumps). Charlotte Water staff will be able to shelter in place at facilities to keep them running if travel becomes difficult The utility has additional pumps and backup generators to keep facilities functioning during severe weather as well.
“The system has a great deal of redundancy built into it and we prepare for emergencies all the time,” said Frost. “We plan to operate 24/7, just as we do each day.”
As a backup water supply, fill food-grade containers and bottles from the tap.
Charlotte-Mecklenburg Emergency Management also advises people to make sure they have an emergency kit stocked with essentials to last at least 72 hours, such as food, water, medications and flashlights with extra batteries. You should also gas up your car in case of widespread power outages — gas pumps don’t run without electricity.