The Latest: WNC Escapes Any Major Damage From Florence

Sep 12, 2018

(Monday 5 p.m)  The National Park Service says portions of the Blue Ridge Parkway  are now open. Click here for the latest.  The entire Parkway and most  of its facilities, visitor centers and campgrounds, were shutdown on Friday in anticipation of storm damage from Florence.  A stretch of the road to the south and east of Asheville - from the Tanbark Ridge Overlook to the French Broad Overlook - is now open, as well as the far western end of the Parkway from the Pisgah Inn to its terminus in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

The U.S. Forest Service on Monday said all roads and recreation facilities in the Nantahala National Forest were scheduled to re-open on Tuesday, while nearly all similar sites in the Pisgah National Forest would do the same on Wednesday.

(Monday 12:00 p.m.) A flash flood watch is no longer in effect for the BPR listening area, as damage appears to be minimal throughout Western North Carolina after Florence blanketed the area with rain Sunday as a tropical depression. 

Expected flooding of the Swannanoa River in Biltmore Village did not occur, as the river only crested at 7.68 feet at 7:15 last night.  It's flood stage is 10 feet, and the U.S. Geological Survey was predicting the river would crest at 12 feet early Monday.  In Black Mountain along Flat Creek flooding caused the evacuation of three mobile home parks Sunday afternoon with a shelter set up nearby at the Swannanoa First Baptist Church.  The shelter in McDowell County at the YMCA in Marion was closed late Sunday evening.

The majority of road closures in the region this morning were in Yancey County, but many have been cleared according to the North Carolina Department of Transportation.  The lone closure still active as of noon Monday is on Whittington Road near US 19 near Burnsville.  The road there is closed in both directions.  

(Sunday 10:15 p.m.) A flash flood watch remains in effect through Monday evening for Buncombe, Henderson, Madison, Yancey, and eastern Polk and McDowell Counties as the final remnants of Florence pass through Western North Carolina. 

Minor flooding overnight remains possible among streams and rivers, but it appears the region avoided widespread damage from the storm.  There are several road closures in rural parts of Yancey County, and two roads closed in Transylvania County due to flooding.  To get the latest road closures from the North Carolina Department of Transportation, head here. 

(Sunday 5:30 p.m.) As a flash flood warning expired late Sunday evening for parts of Buncombe, Henderson, and Polk Counties, Buncombe County opened its first emergency shelter.  It’s at the Swannanoa First Baptist Church, and that opening comes in response to voluntary evacuations at three mobile home parks in Black Mountain.  Information from the U.S. Geological Survey shows the Swannanoa River will crest above flood stage in the coming hours and cause minor flooding overnight.  At the USGS monitoring point in Biltmore Village, the Swannanoa is expected to crest at 12 feet overnight, which is two feet above flood stage.  That would cause minor flooding in that area before the river recedes back beneath flood stage by noon tomorrow.  To put the 12 foot number in perspective, the river was at just over 14 feet in late May of this year when Biltmore Village flooded, doing minor damage to several businesses.  When the area saw its worst flooding in 2004, the river was at over 18 feet.

Two other emergency shelters are open in Western North Carolina Sunday evening.  The first is at the YMCA in Marion, while the other is at the Polk County Middle School in Mill Spring.  There are no widespread mandatory evacuation orders at this time in the BPR listening area.

Duke Energy is reporting just under 23-hundred outages in Buncombe County at 5:30 p.m. Sunday.  No other county in the BPR listening area is above 600.  Asheville City and Buncombe and Henderson County schools have all announced they will operate on a 2-hour delay Monday morning. 

(Sunday 1 p.m.) A flash flood warning is in effect until 5:15 p.m. for parts of Western North Carolina as rainfall from Tropical Depression Florence picks up in the region.

 

The areas in dark red are under a flash flood warning until 5:15 this evening
Credit National Weather Service

The official alert from the National Weather Service - 

The National Weather Service in Greenville-Spartanburg has issued a Flash Flood Warning for Southwestern McDowell County, Northwestern Rutherford County, Eastern Henderson County in western North Carolina, Western Polk County in western North Carolina, and Eastern Buncombe County in western North Carolina until 515 PM EDT.

* At 1213 PM EDT, Doppler radar and automated rain gauges indicated that locally as much as 3 or 4 inches of rain has fallen today across the warned area. As periods of occasionally heavy tropical rainfall redevelops across the eastern slopes this afternoon, developing areas of high water and flooded streams are expected. * Some locations that will experience flooding include - Black Mountain, Swannanoa, Tryon, Lake Lure, Old Fort, Saluda, Chimney Rock Village, Chimney Rock State Park, Bat Cave and B.R. Parkway-Craggy To Little Switzerland.

Meanwhile, Duke Energy is reporting just over 6-thousand outages in Buncombe County at 12:45 p.m.  An hour prior to that, there were nearly 16-thousand.  The number of outages in Transylvania has held steady at just over 3-thousand.  You can get the latest outage information here

(Sunday 12:10 p.m.) Florence is now a tropical depression, but it's still causing problems as it passes through Western North Carolina Sunday.  Just before noon, Duke Energy was reporting nearly 16-thousand power outages in Buncombe County, and just over three thousand in Transylvania County.  You can view Duke's outage map here.

In Biltmore Village Sunday morning, the concern for a repeat of May's flooding was evident from the number of sandbags that businesses had in front of their doors.  Many close already on Sundays, but those who didn't were open and going about the morning as normal.  The Swannanoa River flowed quickly nearby, but was well below its banks.  The U.S. Geological Survey reported the river in the area was at 3.38 feet Sunday at 11:30 a.m.  Its flood stage is 10 feet, and by Monday the river was expected to crest to 12 feet causing minor flooding.    The USGS also is reporting minor flooding is possible Monday on the French Broad River near Marshall in Madison County.     

The emergency shelter at the YMCA in Marion
Credit McDowell County 911/Emergency Management

Authorities still have two shelters open in the BPR listening area Sunday.  One is at the YMCA in Marion in McDowell County, and the other at Polk County Middle School in Mill Spring in Polk County.  

Credit NOAA

                                                                           (Sunday 5:10 a.m.  AP) Florence has weakened into to tropical depression but flash flooding and major river flooding are expected to continue over significant portions of the Carolinas. The National Hurricane Center says in its 5 a.m. update Sunday that excessive amounts of rain are still being dumped in North Carolina. An elevated risk of landslides is now expected in Western North Carolina.    Forecasters say heavy rains also are expected early in the week in parts of West Virginia and the west-central portion of Virginia. Both states also are at a risk of dangerous flash floods and river flooding. At 5 a.m. Sunday, Florence was about 20 miles (35 kilometers) southwest of Columbia, South Carolina. It has top sustained winds of 35 mph (55 kph) and is moving west at 8 mph (13 kph).  For Western North Carolina:   Showers and possibly thunderstorms are expected throughout the day and into the eventing.  The latest forecast from the National Weather Service shows expected rainfall totals are 1 to 3 inches in the Asheville area, with as much as 5-6 inches to the south and east of Asheville.  A  flash flood watch remains in effect for much of region until Tuesday and a wind advisory is in effect until Sunday evening.  

(Saturday 8:25 p.m.) Buncombe County has set up a reporting system for residents who wish to report road closures as Florence comes through the area.  It can be done here.  The county says it does not want residents calling 9-1-1 to report road issues.

Florence remained a tropical storm at 8 p.m. Saturday evening.  Light rain has fallen throughout Saturday in Western North Carolina, and is expected to pick up overnight.  The latest forecast from the National Weather Service shows expected rainfall totals dropping in the region, with two to six inches now likely, with more possible in localized areas.  Polk County still appears to be where rainfall will be greatest in the BPR listening area. 

Credit NOAA

(Saturday, 7:55 p.m. AP) The core of Tropical Storm Florence is now drifting westward over South Carolina, threatening more flash floods and major river flooding. The National Hurricane Center said Florence was located around 8 p.m. Saturday about 65 miles (100 kilometers) east-southeast of Columbia, the South Carolina capital. Its top sustained winds have dropped some to 45 mph (75 kph) and Florence is crawling along at 2 mph (4 kph). Forecasters say that Florence is still a dangerous storm and is expected to dump excessive rainfall on wide areas of North Carolina and South Carolina. They also say the storm could kick up a few tornadoes on its trek across the region.  A flash flood watch remains in effect until Monday evening for most of the BPR listening area.  Forecasters say Western North Carolina can expect periods of heavy rain Sunday and into early Monday, especially south and east of Asheville. 

                                                                                                                                 (Saturday 5 p.m.) Polk County Emergency Management has issued the following updates about the forecast and preparations for Tropical Storm Florence:  Precipitation forecast:  6 to 8 inches predicted through the storm timeline (2 days). Heavy rain starting at midnight tonight with maximum gusts of up to 40 miles per hour predicted for later Saturday.   The latest forecast shows rain is expected to clear out Monday night  Polk County  opened an emergency shelter today at Polk County Middle School at 321 Wolverine Trail in Mill Spring. 

(Saturday 3 p.m) WORLD EQUESTRIAN GAMES AT TRYON INTERNATIONAL EQUESTRIAN CENTER     WEG  Reining Competition scheduled for Sunday has been rescheduled for Monday.  Freestyle Dressage event has been cancelled.  

From WEG:  Despite the best efforts of the whole Tryon 2018 team and the Officials, who have been working on plans for rescheduling since yesterday, the logistics of putting all necessary elements into place in time have proved insurmountable. As a result, and very regrettably, the Dressage Freestyle will now be cancelled."We know this is desperately disappointing for the 15 athletes who had qualified their horses for the Freestyle, and of course for all the spectators who had bought tickets, but the weather has simply left us with no choice. Horse welfare has to be the top priority and flying the horses out on the same day as competition doesn't work, so sadly the decision to cancel the Freestyle had to be taken," Tryon 2018  Tryon 2018 Organising Committee President Michael Stone said.

(Saturday 1:45 p.m.) Rain from Tropical Storm Florence began to fall in downtown Asheville shortly before 1 p.m. Saturday afternoon.  Florence is expected to dump anywhere from 4 to 10 inches of rain across Western North Carolina, with higher amounts possible in localized spots.  Areas to the east of Asheville are forecast to get the highest amounts of rainfall in the region, in particular Polk County.

Meanwhile, North Carolina governor Roy Cooper is asking anyone who evacuated to Western North Carolina from the eastern part of the state to stay put for a few days longer because emergency crews and utility workers are busy, and people returning could interfere with them completing their jobs.  Speaking via phone with BPR, the governor also says the threat of flooding and landslides in the western mountains is real.  "A lot that will depend on how much and where the rain falls," the governor said.  You listen to the governor's full interview with BPR below.

 

Landslides plagued Polk, Henderson, and McDowell Counties in late May and early June of this year, causing three deaths after a two-week stretch where Western North Carolina saw up to two feet of rain.  Transylvania County is now the latest to declare a state of emergency, doing so just after noon on Saturday.  Winds are expected to gust up to 30 miles per hour in county and elsewhere in the region.  The lower wind gusts in comparison to what other parts of the state saw when Florence was a hurricane lead Duke Energy officials earlier this week to say the number of outages in Western North Carolina would likely be similar to that which follows a thunderstorm, but the utility Saturday is still warning that heavy rainfall will lead to significant outages and people should be prepared.

(Saturday 8: 25 a.m.) Rain from Tropical Storm Florence is expected to start falling Saturday afternoon in Western North Carolina, with the heaviest periods expected overnight into Sunday.  Four to 10 inches is expected across the region, with areas east of Asheville continuing to be forecast to get the largest amounts.

The only shelters in the BPR listening area that have or will be opened are at the YMCA in Marion - which opened Friday evening - and at the Polk County Middle School in Mill Spring.  The latter will open at 3 p.m. Saturday afternoon.

(Friday 4:20 p.m.) The National Park Service will close the entire Blue Ridge Parkway at 8 p.m. Friday evening ahead of Hurricane Florence's arrival.  Meanwhile, Haywood County is the latest jurisdiction in Western North Carolina to declare a state of emergency.

The 469-mile parkway will shut down Friday evening to motorists, cyclists, and pedestrians.  Pisgah Inn will be the only facility along the road in North Carolina that will remain open.  It will only be accessible by U.S. 276.  In making the closure announcement, the park service said saturated soils due to heavy rainfall in combination with strong winds increases the possibility of rock slides and falling trees along the parkway.  The park service adds attempts to go around barriers and gates when the parkway is closed is prohibited.

The weather forecast for Western North Carolina this weekend remains largely the same, with rain fall totals between 4 to 10 inches expected starting late Saturday and lasting through Monday.  The heaviest rain is expected Sunday afternoon.  Winds are forecast to stay between 20 and 30 miles per hour according to the National Weather Service. 

Authorities in McDowell County will open a shelter for evacuees this evening at the YMCA in Marion at 6 p.m.  County emergency services director William Kehler says there is no mandatory evacuation order, but residents who live in flood prone areas should strongly consider heading to the shelter.  He adds areas in the northern part of the county are particularly susceptible to flooding because of rainfall this week.  "Earlier this week, Ashford received five inches of rainfall in 48 hours triggering a flash flood warning," Kehler said during a Facebook Live video Friday morning.  "We definitely want the public to be aware that the stream levels in the northern part of the county are elevated from normal at this time."

An emergency shelter in Polk County will be opening Saturday afternoon at 3 p.m. at the Polk County Middle School in Mill Spring.  Polk County, like McDowell, was hit particularly hard in May by mudslides.  In a press release, the county said in opening the shelter on Saturday it wanted give families options ahead of the storm arriving.  

(Friday 1 p.m.) As Hurricane Florence hits the coast, Western North Carolina continues to prepare for potential flooding. The steep slopes and isolated homes in the westernmost counties are particularly vulnerable to storm damage. In 2004, hurricanes brought intense rainfall to the mountains which resulted in landslides and debris flows such as the deadly Peeks Creek disaster in Macon County.  When a storm system pushes up against the mountains the rainfall can increase, says Professor Anna Barros of Duke University. Barros predicts that we could see over foot of rain over the weekend in some locations in the Southern Appalachians.

“Residents should be prepared for life-threatening flash floods and landslides if Florence moves as currently forecasted,” says Barros.

Macon County Emergency Services director Warren Cabe says that they have been warning residents to prepare for the storm and to stay alert - even as forecasts shift.  The county is expecting flooding issues with a slight chance for wind damage.  Flooding in the mountains tends to happen a lot faster and waters recede faster but it can take longer for isolated areas to receive aid and repairs, says Cabe.  “This is a good chance for folks to look at their emergency preparedness plans at home to look and see if they can be self sufficient for a couple of days if need be. Look at things like their nonperishable food items, utilities, water supply and prescriptions,” says Cabe. “Use this to remind themselves of what they need and even if this event doesn’t cause any major problems - winter is coming.”

(Friday 8 a.m.) A growing number of counties, cities and towns have declared a state of emergency as Florence heads towards the mountains including Buncombe,  Henderson, Polk, Yancey and Rutherford. The Red Cross reports more than 360 people stayed overnight in one of the 12 shelters opened for evacuees across Western North Carolina. 

(Thursday 3:20 p.m.) The National Weather Service has officially issued a flash flood watch for Western North Carolina.  It begins Saturday morning at 8 a.m and lasts to Tuesday morning.  A flash flood watch means conditions that could cause flooding could occur.  Hurrican Florence continues to take a more southerly track, but that has had very little change on the weather forecast for Western North Carolina.  The storm is expected to dump anywhere between 4 to 10 inches of rain starting Saturday in the region.  Winds are expected to be between 20 to 40 miles per hour.

McDowell County will open a shelter for evacuees Friday evening.  The shelter will be located at the YMCA in Marion.  McDowell County emergency services director William Kehler says if conditions warrant it, they will open the shelter earlier.  "Citizens who live near creeks, streams, and rivers -  as well as areas prone to landslides - they should shelter in a safe location prior to the storm," Kelher said at a news conference Thursday afternoon.  McDowell County was hit particularly hard in late May and early June by flooding and landslides that occurred after a two-week period where two feet of rain fell.  Those landslides included one near Old Fort that briefly closed Interstate 40.

(12:15 p.m. Thursday) Buncombe County on Thursday morning declared a state of emergency ahead of Hurricane Florence.  The goes into effect at midnight on Friday and lasts through next Thursday.  Even as Hurricane Florence weakened ahead of its landfall Thursday morning, the weather forecast for Western North Carolina when the storm arrives has stayed the same.  Between 4 to 10 inches of rain is expected to fall starting Saturday through Monday, with sustained winds between 20 and 40 miles per hour.  

The U.S. Forest Service has also announced a slew of road closures in the Pisgah and Nantahala National Forests.  You can see those closures here.  All campgrounds and recreation sites in both forests were closed at noon today.

(7 a.m. Thursday AP & NWS) Hurricane Florence was downgraded to a Category 2 storm on Thursday. Top sustained wind speeds dropped to 110 mph (175 kph) as its outer rainbands approached the North Carolina coast.  But forecasters warned that the enormous wind field has been growing larger, raising the risk of the ocean surging on to land.

The hurricane is expected to make landfall near Wilmington Friday morning bringing life-threatening storm surge and very heavy rainfall.  Forecasters say widespread flooding is likely as the storm moves through the area. 

National Weather Service forecasters based in Greer, South Carolina say Western North Carolina should begin to feel the impact on Saturday as rainbands enter the region, with the heaviest rainfall and the potential for flooding and mudslides occurring on Sunday and early Monday.  The latest forecast shows rainfall amounts will vary across the region from 4 to 10 inches with higher elevations receiving the most.  

(5:45 p.m. Wednesday) While Hurricane Florence was downgraded to a Category 3 storm on Wednesday afternoon, it's still forecast to start affecting Western North Carolina as early as Saturday, bringing with it a lot of rain that could lead to flooding.

As of late Wednesday afternoon, the forecast from the National Weather Service shows that Western North Carolina will start to see rainfall mid-Saturday.  If the storm stays on its current path, it could bring anywhere from 4 to 10 inches of rain to the region, with winds in the 30 to 40 miles per hour range.  To the west of Asheville, both the rainfall and wind gusts are forecast to be lower.

Duke Energy is estimating that between 1 and 3-million customers could lose power during the storm in both North and South Carolina.  The high end of that estimate would mean 75% of Duke's customers in both states could be without power.  During a conference call with reporters Wednesday afternoon, Duke Energy North Carolina president David Fountain underscored how serious the damage could be from Florence.  “It’s important to know that this is no ordinary storm," Fountain said.  "People could be without power for a very long time.  Not days, but weeks.”  Duke Energy storm director Howard Fowler says while a lot of rain in the forecast for Western North Carolina, they're not expecting right now that the region to see widespread power outages.  “From an outage prediction perspective it will be busy," said Fowler.  "It will be windy, but right now we are not anticipating a tremendous amount of trouble in (Western North Carolina), beyond what would be a mid-level storm like you would typically see during a thunderstorm.”

The Asheville Fire Department is urging residents to sign up for AvlAlert, an emergency messaging system where people can receive information about the storm through their preferred method - phone call, text, or email.  Residents can sign up for AvlAlert through the city website or by 2-1-1.  The city is also releasing small amounts of water regularly at the North Fork Dam, which the city says will allow the reservoir there to better absorb a heavy rainfall.

The U.S. Forest Service will close all campgrounds and recreation sites in both the Nantahala and Pisgah National Forests on Thursday at noon.  That includes both day use and overnight sites.  All seasonal gates in both forests will be closed, and the Forest Service is urging the public not to use trails or general forest areas.  The Blue Ridge Parkway issued a mandatory evacuation order for all campgrounds along the road at 5 p.m. on Wednesday.  That includes backcountry camping areas.