Hurricane Florence flood watch: NC rivers to approach record-setting heights

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As Hurricane Florence makes its way over the Carolinas, dumping rain that in some places is being measured in feet rather than inches, the flooding danger presented by overflowing rivers grows greater.

The worst flooding will likely start Saturday night or Sunday morning, according to predictions from the National Weather Service, and will continue for at least several days. The Triangle will not be as affected as much of eastern North Carolina.

“Life threatening, catastrophic flash flooding and prolonged significant river flooding are likely,” the National Weather Service said Friday. “The slow motion of the storm will make this a very prolonged flood event.”

But some parts of the state will have worse flooding than others. Towns to the south and east will likely fare worse than the Triangle.

The National Weather Service’s monitoring station of the Neuse River in North Raleigh, at Falls Lake, did not indicate the potential for flooding. And in Johnston County, a monitoring station in Clayton indicated there could be some minor flooding from Sunday through Wednesday.

Brittany Bell, a meteorologist at ABC11 in Raleigh, said the Triangle is expected to get five to 10 inches of rain over the next few days, so flooding won’t be as bad here — although certain areas prone to flash flooding, like near Crabtree Valley Mall, will likely flood again.

She also said there’s the possibility for future flooding, as rivers upstream are hit by the storm, which is expected to pass west into Appalachia and then head back north by early next week.

“We’ll have flash flooding, and some streets that might flood today or tonight,” Bell said Friday. “But on top of that we’re going to have to deal with the river flooding.”

Bell said that’s especially the case for communities near the coast, where the state’s rivers empty into the ocean.

“They’re dealing with the storm surge now, and then after that they’ll be dealing with all the rain we’re getting here or in the mountains,” she said.

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The following is according to the National Wather Service:

In Wilmington, flooding had already started Friday afternoon, with the Cape Fear River at 8.1 feet — just under the record of 8.2 feet set in 2016 during Hurricane Matthew. Flooding was expected to continue at through Sunday, at the least.

On Friday, Fayetteville officials encouraged people who live near the Cape Fear River or Little River to leave, saying there’s “a high probability” they will issue mandatory evacuation orders before Saturday night, when flooding is expected to begin. The county has opened up a number of emergency shelters at local schools and recreation centers to hold people fleeing the flood-prone areas.

In Fayetteville, the Cape Fear River was at 12 feet Friday afternoon and was expected to quickly rise from a height of about 14 feet on Saturday morning to 35 feet on Sunday morning, when flooding is expected to start. The flooding is expected to worsen over the early part of the next week, as the river eventually reaches a height of more than 62 feet there — which would be 3 feet higher than the river rose in 2016 during Hurricane Matthew. The all-time record for that part of the Cape Fear is 68.9 feet, set in 1945.

In Goldsboro, the Neuse River has risen from about 4 feet deep on Tuesday to more then 8 feet deep Friday afternoon. Over the weekend, minor flooding is expected to begin once it reaches 17 or 18 feet — which is expected to happen overnight between Saturday and Sunday. Eventually the river is expected to reach a height of more than 20 feet Monday, causing major flooding as it eventually rises to an expected final height of 25.1 feet Tuesday night, remaining at that level for at least a few days. The all-time record for flooding in that part of the Neuse is 29.7 feet, which was during Hurricane Matthew in 2016.

In Kinston, the Neuse River was at just under 8 feet Friday afternoon, with minor flooding expected to begin Friday night and major flooding expected to begin Sunday night or Monday morning, when the river could reach a height of 21.4 feet and stay at that level for several days, according to National Weather Service predictions. The all-time record for flooding in that part of the Neuse is 28.3 feet, which was during Hurricane Matthew in 2016.

In Greenville, the Tar River was at just under 11 feet Friday afternoon and expected not to rise much over the weekend, staying just under flood levels until Tuesday, when minor flooding is expected to begin before the river eventually reaches a height of 13.5 feet on Wednesday. That’s far under the record of 29.7 feet set in 1999 during Hurricane Floyd, or the 24.5 feet that part of the river reached in 2016 during Hurricane Matthew.

In Harnett County and Lillington, the Cape Fear River was at less than 3 feet Friday afternoon but is expected to rise to about 14 feet by Sunday morning, when minor flooding is expected to begin. That area is not expected to undergo major flooding, but will see some moderate flooding from Sunday through Wednesday, with the river cresting at more than 22 feet Monday. That’s more than the 19.4 feet the river there rose to during Hurricane Matthew in 2016. The all-time record for flooding in that part of the Cape Fear is 33.2 feet, which was in 1945.

For resources more detailed than some provided by than the National Weather Service, the U.S. Geological Service also frequently updates a searchable, interactive map of dozens of river sites all over North Carolina at

That site also has information on precipitation levels, water quality readings and more.

Doran: 919-836-2858; Twitter: will_doran