Environment

Monday map time: When hell is high water

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National Weather Service map

At 68 feet, the portion of the Cape Fear River near the Bladen-Cumberland county line is 26 feet above flood stage and inching its way to a record of 75. The gauge here at the Huske Lock is one of 15 in eastern North Carolina that indicates major flooding.

(Click on the dots on the interactive map to get more details about flood levels and forecasts.)

Meanwhile, in Lumberton, the Lumber River has reached historic levels — 24 feet. The amount of water was so tremendous, state officials believed the levee had broken. Federal officials from NOAA said the levee has held, although 1,500 people have been evacuated from the town. The area in black and orange hatching is the area that is ostensibly protected by the levee.

 

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NC Flood Risk Information System

The state’s Flood Risk Information System is one of several test sites for the Federal Emergency Management Agency. FRIS has an interesting map and interface where you can plug in an address and/or county and learn how vulnerable the area is to this kind of disaster. It also lists the source of flooding: The Atlantic Ocean, for example, can consume Dare County, which is just 4 feet above sea level. The FRIS also tells you if flood insurance is mandatory and can estimate the premium.

However, the problem with FEMA’s flood maps is that they are outdated in the face of climate change. Storms that once had a 1 in 100 chance of occurring in a year now happen more frequently (and ferociously), and can include areas outside the traditional flood plains. FEMA estimates that two-thirds to 80 percent of annual flood losses occur outside of hazard zones, CityLab reported in September , after Hurricane Hermine hit Florida.

These changes carry serious implications for the North Carolina coast. Despite scientific data showing the probability of sea level rise — and in northeastern NC, coupled with a sinking of the coast — real estate developers are still building as if a force field will keep the ocean at bay.

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