Just two weeks ago, Col. J. R. Sanderson, a senior government advisor for a SBP, a disaster management consulting firm, warned state lawmakers to pay attention to future storm impacts in the mountains. “You’re probably going to be OK in response to a hurricane because you’ve done it dozens of times,” Sanderson said. He is working with officials in Kentucky after floods devastated the eastern part of the state earlier this year. ” I would worry about the mountains. Your highest risk is going to be flooding in the mountains. It’s going to devastate those communities.”
Now Hurricane Ian is projected to mushroom into a Category 4 storm, slam into the Florida Panhandle, and then weaken as it moves up the spine of the Appalachian Mountains. Current spaghetti models show remnants of Hurricane Ian will cross the western third North Carolina next weekend. (It’s important to note that forecasts this far in advance often change.)
However, because of the size of the storm, most of North Carolina could receive torrential rain, including the Piedmont and Sandhills. Coastal areas could receive as much as 5 inches of rain, according to The Weather Channel. Find out if you live in a flood zone by plugging in your address to the NC Flood Risk Information System.
In the mountains, heavy rain can send rocks, mud, trees and other debris hurling down steep slopes, especially where landslides are common: Haywood, Buncombe, Henderson, Macon, Polk and Watauga have all experienced historic, life-altering landslides. In 2004, after Hurricanes Frances and Ivan hit within two weeks of each other, “soil began to liquefy,” according to state records. By the time the mud flowed more than 2 miles down the mountainside to the Cullasaja River, it was traveling at speeds of 33 mph.
Haywood County is still wrestling with the remnants of Tropical Storm Fred from 2021. Five to 15 inches of rain fell, flooding rivers and disgorging rock and mud from steep mountainsides. Six people died and more than 450 homes and businesses were damaged or destroyed.
To see if you live in an area vulnerable to landslides, check out a an interactive map published by the NC Department of Environmental Quality, UNC Asheville and the state Geological Survey.
Below is a static map of landslide-prone areas. The red dots represent landslide points. The counties shaded in blue are classified as moderate risk for landslides. However, within these counties there are high-risk regions, show below on inset maps