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Hurricane Matthew's rampage through North Carolina's coastal plain flooded more than 140 feces-strewn swine and poultry barns, more than a dozen open pits brimming with hog waste and thousands of acres of manure-saturated fields, an analysis by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) and Waterkeeper Alliance reveals.
From aerial surveys and imagery, the two organizations produced maps that provide the first publicly available, in-depth look at the impact of flooding on 36 factory farms along the Neuse, Black and Cape Fear rivers. As the images and maps show, dozens of confined animal feeding operations or CAFOs, were flooded along the sensitive plain, putting waterways, drinking water sources and public health at risk.
WaterKeeper Alliance / Google Earth
WaterKeeper Alliance / Google Earth
WaterKeeper Alliance / Google Earth
WaterKeeper Alliance / Google Earth
When floodwaters reach livestock confinement barns, waste pits or waste application fields, nearby surface water becomes contaminated with animal urine and feces, which contain a number of harmful pollutants including E. coli and salmonella. In the aftermath of Hurricane Floyd in 1999, dangerous levels of E. coli and Clostridium were found in water samples even after the flooding receded.
After Hurricane Matthew, Waterkeeper Alliance coordinated 20 aerial surveys to assess flooding impacts on swine and poultry CAFOs in eight North Carolina counties. Pilots flew over floodplains, creeks and swamps. Aerial photos document the flooding of 10 swine operations, 26 poultry facilities and 14 open-air waste pits—an ugly reminder of the recklessness of concentrating animal feeding operations in a low-lying area inundated annually by tropical storms.
"Hurricane Matthew once again exposed the threat posed by the location of industrial animal agriculture operations in the floodplain," said Will Hendrick, North Carolina Pure Farms, Pure Waters campaign manager for Waterkeeper Alliance. "Increasingly frequent and severe storms will continue to exacerbate the problems of current animal waste management practices until action is taken to protect our environment and public health from these vulnerable facilities."
After Hurricane Floyd, the state of North Carolina and Smithfield Farms moved to address the problem by closing or taking pollution prevention measures at CAFOs in the 100-year floodplain. The state spent nearly $20 million in taxpayer money to close a relatively small number of the most flood-vulnerable swine CAFOs.
"We need to be proactive in our preparedness for flood events," said Travis Graves, the Lower Neuse Riverkeeper. "After Hurricane Floyd we identified hundreds of at-risk facilities and removed some of them from the floodplain. Now we need to finish the job and get the rest of them out of harm's way."
In June, EWG, Waterkeeper Alliance and North Carolina Riverkeepers released a first-of-its-kind, interactive map revealing the locations of more than 6,500 CAFOs, including at least 170 open-air manure pits within the 100-year floodplain.
As animal waste continues to dissolve into sensitive waterways, the groups called on policymakers to address the problem once and for all—before another major storm bears down on North Carolina.
"It's only a matter of time until the next storm inundates North Carolina's coast, swamping factory farms and churning up feces-laden waste into vital waterways, including those that are sources of drinking water for many North Carolinians," wrote Soren Rundquist, EWG's director of spatial analysis and lead author of the report.
The record-breaking flood of the Neuse River inundated three inactive coal ash ponds for five days last week from the Duke Energy H.F. Lee facility, 10 miles upstream of Goldsboro, North Carolina. The flooded ponds are unlined and uncovered, containing more than 1 million tons of coal ash spread over more than 170 acres in a layer 4 to 10 feet deep.
On Oct. 14 at 4:28 p.m., before the flood waters had completely receded from the flooded ash ponds, Duke Energy reported a spill of an undetermined amount of coal ash into the Neuse River to the U.S. Coast Guard's National Response Center. On Oct. 15, Duke Energy and the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality personnel inspected the inactive ash ponds by foot, claiming they "determined that the amount of material that was displaced would not even fill the bed of an average pickup truck."
On Oct. 17, the flood waters had receded enough to allow the Waterkeeper Alliance rapid response team to launch a boat in the Neuse River to inspect for coal ash releases. Later that afternoon, the Upper Neuse Riverkeeper discovered a second coal ash spill coming from the inactive ash ponds at HF Lee. The coating of ash on tree branches high above the receding flood waters proved the spill had been ongoing for almost a week.
Duke Energy and DEQ claim their representatives identified the second spill on Oct. 17 as well, independent of Waterkeeper Alliance's public disclosure of the spill on Oct. 18. The Waterkeeper Alliance rapid response team questions the claim that both DEQ inspectors and Duke Energy staff traveled to the location of the second spill by boat on Oct. 17 and identified the white substance floating on the water and coating the trees.
To the contrary, Duke Energy reportedly told WNCN on the evening of Oct. 18 that it had not yet conducted water sampling from a boat because state regulators had not deemed it safe to boat on the flooded river. This directly contradicts subsequent claims by Duke and DEQ that they had observed the spill by boat on Oct. 17.
"The agency that should be a watchdog protecting the public is acting more like a PR firm trying to protect Duke Energy's reputation," Waterkeeper Alliance attorney Pete Harrison said. "This is the same agency that only a year ago stood up in court and tried to block an agreement between Waterkeeper and Duke that requires Duke to remove all the coal ash from the ash ponds that flooded."
Since we exposed the second spill on the afternoon of Oct. 18, Duke Energy has continued to insist that the spilled material is "not coal ash," falsely claiming that cenospheres are distinct from fly ash, the primary constituent of coal ash.
However, scientists at Appalachian State University used a scanning electron microscope (SEM) to visualize samples of the spilled coal ash cenospheres, and tested the particles for contaminants using Energy-dispersive X-ray spectroscopy (EDX).
The EDX analysis detected dangerous heavy metals attached to the fly ash cenospheres, including antimony and cobalt.
Scanning electron microscope (SEM) image of coal ash cenosphere found in Neuse River on Oct. 17.Dr. Guichuan Hou, PhD, Director of Dewel Microscopy Facility, Research Associate Professor of Biology, Appalachian State University
Energy-dispersive X-ray spectroscopy (EDX) graph of chemicals in or on a coal ash cenosphere that was found in the Neuse River on Oct. 17. The analysis detected antimony, cobalt, and thallium, which can be toxic to people and aquatic life.Dr. Guichuan Hou, PhD, Director of Dewel Microscopy Facility, Research Associate Professor of Biology, Appalachian State University
Duke Energy has previously reported elevated levels of both these contaminants in groundwater monitoring wells located around the inactive ash ponds where the coal ash spill occurred. Throughout the week, Duke Energy attempted to characterize cenospheres as "not coal ash" and "inert" and "not inherently toxic." These talking points carefully avoid acknowledging what the EDX analysis confirms: the spilled coal ash cenospheres, though composed largely out of silica and aluminum, have more dangerous contaminants attached to them.
Harrison called the mischaracterization "a shameful attempt by Duke Energy to trick the public and cover up a large coal ash spill that the company failed to identify and/or failed to report."
Duke Energy even acknowledges on its website that "cenospheres are a form of fly ash." Duke's failure to report the spill may have even been a violation of the company's probation sentence, which it received last year after pleading guilty to federal crimes involving its mismanagement of coal ash at the H.F. Lee facility, among others.
Because Duke Energy did report a spill of coal ash on Oct. 14 (the purported pickup truck load), and the company has emphatically denied that the material discovered by the Upper Neuse Riverkeeper is coal ash, it is clear that material discovered in the river on Oct. 17 was a separate and distinct spill from the one Duke Energy reported on Oct. 14. Based on currently available information, Duke Energy has still not reported the second spill to then National Response Center.
On Oct. 19, the day after our organizations exposed the second coal ash spill, the DEQ claimed its "staff determined on Monday that material found at the H.F. Lee facility in Wayne County is not coal ash," and accused Waterkeeper Alliance of "falsely reporting" the coal ash release. Both Duke and DEQ claimed, without analyzing the spilled material, that it was harmless cenospheres comprised of just aluminum and silica.
"After adopting Duke Energy's indefensible position that the material was not coal ash and requiring no further action from Duke on Wednesday, DEQ has now done an about face, admitting last night that cenospheres are fly ash and ordering Duke to investigate the spills further," Matthew Starr, Sound Rivers' Upper Neuse Riverkeeper, said.
"The DEQ bureaucrats must have woken up yesterday with the embarrassing realization that the state Coal Ash Management Act they're in charge of implementing defines cenospheres as coal ash," Donna Lisenby of Waterkeeper Alliance said.
"Now DEQ seems to be changing its tune and agreeing with what we've been saying all along: Duke Energy is responsible for another coal ash spill into the Neuse River. Unfortunately this one looks like a lot more than a pickup-truck's worth of ash was spilled."
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
Waterkeeper Alliance and Sound Rivers have discovered a large coal ash spill into the Neuse River from the Duke Energy H.F. Lee facility, 10 miles upstream of Goldsboro, North Carolina. A substantial but undetermined amount of coal ash was found floating on the surface of the river in a layer over one inch thick. See the video below:
The spill came from at least one of three inactive coal ash ponds containing more than 1 million tons of exposed coal ash. The ponds had been submerged by Hurricane Matthew flood waters for more than seven days until flood waters receded over the weekend. Fly ash coated tree branches as much as seven feet above the river surface, indicating the spill began no later than last Tuesday, when the water level reached a record flood stage.
Waterkeeper Alliance and Sound Rivers discovered a large quantity coal ash spill into the Neuse River from the Duke Energy H.F. Lee facility, 10 miles upstream of Goldsboro. Pete Harrison / Waterkeeper Alliance
Independent microscopic analysis confirmed the white material is fly ash particles known as cenospheres, a waste product of coal combustion.
Upper Neuse Riverkeeper Matthew Starr, said:
"This spill is easily visible to anyone in a boat. The area looks like a winter wonderland of toxic coal ash as it has coated the water and trees. It is hard for me to understand how both Duke Energy and state regulators failed to notice such a large area of coal ash contaminating the Neuse River when they claim to have inspected these very ash ponds on Saturday."
On Oct. 15, Duke Energy issued a press release stating:
"Site inspections at the H.F. Lee Power Plant in Goldsboro, N.C., today confirm there was only very minor erosion of material from an inactive coal ash basin on the site.
The majority of that material, which includes coal ash, remained very close to the inactive basin, on the berm or a few feet away on the basin roadway. The state team that inspected the facility determined that the amount of material that was displaced would not even fill the bed of an average pickup truck."
"When a raging river floods over 1 million tons of coal ash, you're obviously going to get more than a pickup truck's worth of ash polluting the river," said Waterkeeper Alliance staff attorney Pete Harrison.
"It was very troubling to discover such a large amount of ash in the river, especially knowing that untold amounts of ash have been washing out of these ponds for more than a week now. It's baffling how Duke Energy could be so oblivious to such an obvious spill and how state regulators continue to look the other way when it comes to Duke's coal ash problems."
An substantial but undetermined amount of coal ash was found floating on the surface of the Neuse river in a layer more than an inch thick.Pete Harrison / Waterkeeper Alliance & Matt Starr / Upper Neuse Riverkeeper / Sound Rivers
Four of five retired coal ash ponds at the H.F. Lee plant near Goldsboro, North Carolina were inundated for at least 7 days. The submerged ponds contain more than one million tons of coal ash, spread in a layer between four and ten feet thick across an area the size of 130 football fields. In a 2015 site assessment, Duke Energy reported high levels of toxic heavy metals in the flooded ponds, including arsenic, antimony and thallium.
Last week at the H.F. Lee facility, Duke Energy failed to identify a breach in a cooling pond dam the size of a school bus for as much as 24 hours before a local news helicopter spotted the collapsed dam and reported it to officials.
By John Hocevar
In 1992, Hurricane Andrew ripped through southeast Florida, doing more than $26 billion in damage and killing at least 65 people. At the time, I was working on a masters degree in marine biology in southeast Florida; several of my close friends lost their homes during the storm.
Our marine lab was at the end of a barrier island and there were so many overturned Australian pines along the road that it looked like someone had dumped a giant bag of Lincoln Logs. I remember helping friends move their belongings off houseboats and out of trailers to higher and safer ground, and the mint green color of the sky just before our transformer blew up.
Houses surrounded by water in St. Augustine, Florida Oct. 8 in the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew.Marc Serota / Greenpeace
Strangest of all, I remember being asked to shoot holes in the deck of a yacht to try to put it on the bottom and prevent it from destroying everything else by being thrown around by wind and storm surge.
Two decades later, another devastating storm—Hurricane Matthew—has wreaked havoc in the southeastern U.S. and claimed more than 1,000 lives in Haiti.
The Link Between Climate Change and Hurricane Season
For a long time, the science has been clear that our reliance on fossil fuels has not only been heating our planet, but also fueling bigger and more devastating storms.
It has also been clear for a long time that Florida, with its expansive coastline covered with high rise hotels and condominiums often just a few feet above sea level, is among one of the most vulnerable places in the world to extreme weather heightened by climate change.
Property damaged along the coast in St. Augustine, Florida Oct. 8 in the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew.Marc Serota / Greenpeace
I studied coral reef conservation in grad school. At the time, coral bleaching was a new phenomenon, and no one had yet imagined that coral reefs might be driven to extinction in the coming decades. Much of Florida's reef tract has been given State Park or National Marine Sanctuary status, but in recent years it has been dying so quickly you can almost watch it happen.
Climate-driven bleaching is one of the main culprits, with implications for a tourism industry that brings 100 million people and $50 billion to Florida each year.
Climate Change and the Politics of Denial
By outright denying the science of climate change and the threat it poses to his state, Florida Gov. Scott has utterly failed the people of Florida.
Now that the waters receded and the power is back on, we need to think carefully about whether climate deniers like Gov. Scott are suitable candidates to take responsibility for our future.
Instead of working to reduce carbon emissions and build strategies to cope with climate impacts like sea level rise, erosion, flooding, saltwater intrusion, insect-borne disease outbreaks and extreme heat, he has stuck his head in Florida's sand. Famously, Scott even banned state employees from using the phrase climate change. This would be irresponsible anywhere, but in a state like Florida on the frontlines of the climate battle, it borders on criminal negligence.
Boats are damaged and sunk in St. Augustine, Florida, Oct. 8 in the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew.Marc Serota / Greenpeace
Scott has been busy dealing with the impacts of Hurricane Matthew on Florida's people, environment and businesses, which left more than 1,000 dead in Haiti and is the worst to hit Florida in decades.
Now that the waters receded and the power is back on, we need to think carefully about whether climate deniers like Scott—and his party's presidential nominee Donald Trump—are suitable candidates to take responsibility for our future.
For a growing number of people who suffer at the hands climate-denialist politics, the answer is clear.
John Hocevar is a trained marine biologist and an accomplished campaigner, explorer and marine scientist, John has helped win several major victories for marine conservation since becoming the director of Greenpeace's oceans campaign in 2004.
Billions of Gallons of Animal Waste From Factory Farms Poses Health Risks in Wake of Hurricane Matthew
Reports emerging Thursday of dead farm animals and breached manure pits highlight a health risk that will linger long after Hurricane Matthew's floodwaters recede: The threat of pollution from the billions of gallons of animal waste stored at North Carolina's loosely regulated factory farms.
The immensity of the ongoing threat to human health and the environment across a coastal plain clustered with factory farms is demonstrated by the fact that just four counties in the severely flooded lower Cape Fear River basin are home to 36.5 million farm animals, producing more than 40 billion pounds of animal waste annually, according to research by the Center for Biological Diversity.
"Our hearts go out to the tens of thousands of North Carolinians whose lives have been turned upside down by the horrible flooding," said Hannah Connor, a Center for Biological Diversity attorney specializing in harms caused by factory farming. "Sadly they've been put at additional long-term risk by the threat of pollution of their waterways and groundwater from billions of gallons of largely untreated animal waste at these industrial operations."
This is not the first time a major storm event has exposed the risks posed by factory farms in North Carolina, which is home to the second-largest hog population in the country as well as one of its largest poultry populations.
During Hurricane Fran in 1996, 22 animal waste pits in the state were reportedly ruptured or overflowed. A major manure spill was reported following Hurricane Bonnie in 1998, and after Hurricane Floyd dumped as much as 20 inches of rain across the region in 1999, animal-waste lagoons overflowed directly into waterways and surrounding communities.
Even during more routine weather events, the unchecked growth of massive, poorly regulated factory farms has left the region's high water table and numerous waterways at constant risk of pollution from the industrial hog and poultry production operations that rely on waste management and disposal systems that are highly susceptible to harmful runoff and spills.
The escalating environmental risks posed by poorly regulated animal waste will be highlighted in a forthcoming report from the center identifying the 10 areas across the nation where factory farms produce the greatest amounts of sewage—most of it virtually untreated.
"Unfortunately the environmental health risks posed by the billions of gallons of waste generated by factory farms won't go away when Matthew's floodwaters disappear," said Connor. "Until we move toward more sustainable farming practices, and the EPA [U.S. Environmental Protection Agency] takes a more realistic approach to reducing the harm these industrial operations have on animals and the environment, the risks are only going to escalate."
It all began Wednesday morning when Duke Energy issued a statement claiming that the "ash basin and cooling pond dams across the state continue to operate safely," but then helicopter footage from Raleigh's local television station WRAL showed that one of the dams had been breached.
On Thursday, Duke spokeswoman Erin Culbert confirmed to the Charlotte Business Journal that the company found out about the breach after WRAL contacted Duke about a half-hour after their statement came out and shared its video. Culbert said a Duke inspection crew had flown over the area earlier in the morning and, at the time, the dam was intact and showed no signs of stress. After they saw the video, the company put out an update acknowledging the damage at the dam.
The breach at the main cooling pond is visible on the right of the photo and is releasing to the Neuse River, which is outside of the frame on the left.Duke Energy
"We are really grateful for their good timing which allowed us to respond and put our emergency protocols into effect," Culbert said.
Donna Lisenby of Waterkeeper Alliance said this incident proves Duke Energy was "asleep at the switch when it was supposed to be monitoring the safety of dams at the H.F. Lee facility during record setting floods."
"They weren't aware of a 50-foot wide breach in the cooling pond dam until notified by a TV crew. How is it possible for a company with helicopters actively flying over dams and hundreds of engineers to miss a 50-foot-wide breach? Apparently, one small WRAL news crew is more competent and better at monitoring the safety and integrity of Duke Energy dams than all the hundreds of Duke Energy employees and contractors combined," Lisenby exclaimed.
Duke Energy said the 545-acre man-made reservoir that was breached does not contain coal ash and supplies cooling water to power plants at the site. It said the active ash basins are not affected by this incident and continue to operate safely.
"We are giving this our fullest attention," said Regis Repko, senior vice president of Fossil-Hydro Operations. "We are assessing what resources we need and will position repair materials so we can respond quickly once conditions are safe to do so."
Waterkeeper Alliance said they remain very concerned about the integrity of Duke Energy's ash pond dams as the river recedes over the next week.
"This failure likely happened because the river has begun to recede, which is when structural problems often develop," Pete Harrison, staff attorney at Waterkeeper Alliance, and Matthew Starr, Upper Neuse Riverkeeper, said Wednesday. "Like so many of Duke Energy's coal ash ponds across the state, the cooling pond at Lee has a long history of structural problems—these are disasters waiting to happen."
In addition to concerns at Duke Energy's coal ash ponds, environmentalists are keeping an eye on floodwaters that have washed over factory farms in eastern North Carolina following the storm.
Millions of chickens are feared dead after at least a half-dozen poultry houses were found completely flooded and tens of thousands of carcasses were seen floating the water in Cumberland and Robinson counties.
[This breaking news is an update to a post earlier today on EcoWatch: Millions of Chickens Feared Dead at Factory Farms in Wake of Hurricane Matthew]
Waterkeeper Alliance and Upper Neuse Riverkeeper are responding to and documenting the breach of a 1.2-billion-gallon cooling pond dam at Duke Energy's H.F. Lee plant.
The breach occurred today just minutes after Duke Energy issued a statement claiming that the "Ash basin and cooling pond dams across the state continue to operate safely; in fact, we've been pleased with their good performance during the historic flooding Hurricane Matthew brought to eastern North Carolina."
Pete Harrison, staff attorney at Waterkeeper Alliance, and Matthew Starr, Upper Neuse Riverkeeper, released the following statement:
"When families are being threatened by some of the worst flooding in North Carolina's history, they should not also have to worry about Duke Energy's dams collapsing.
"This failure likely happened because the river has begun to recede, which is when structural problems often develop. Like so many of Duke Energy's coal ash ponds across the state, the cooling pond at Lee has a long history of structural problems—these are disasters waiting to happen.
"Minutes before the dam collapsed on the cooling pond, Duke Energy issued a statement declaring it was operating safely. Duke continues to claim the dam of a 120-acre coal ash pond at Lee is operating safely, even though the river has only begun to recede. The same ash pond suffered extensive damage after flooding caused by Hurricane Floyd in 1999. We remain very concerned about the integrity of the ash pond dams at Lee as the river recedes over the next week.
"It has been more than two years since the Dan River disaster, and Duke's coal ash continues to sit behind rickety dams on the banks of flood-prone rivers all across the state. Three ash ponds at the Lee plant, totaling 160 acres, have been completely submerged since Sunday."
In response to Waterkeeper Alliances breaking news, Greenpeace organizer Caroline Hansley said:
"Duke Energy can attack environmental groups all it wants, but the fact remains that it is misleading the public and the people of North Carolina about the safety of its dams, and Governor McCrory is letting the company get away with it- again. As the flood waters from the devastating Hurricane Matthew recede, we need a Governor who will put people's safety and access to clean drinking water before the interests of his previous employer, Duke Energy.
"Duke Energy has a terrible track record when it comes to protecting the safety of North Carolina's waterways and drinking water. In the two years since the Dan River coal ash disaster, Duke Energy has fought efforts to clean up leaking coal ash pits which threaten the health and safety of nearby communities. Instead of cleaning up its hazardous messes, Duke uses its political influence with its previous employee, Governor McCrory, allowing the company to leave 70 percent of its toxic coal ash leaking across the state.
"Hurricane Matthew proves again that Governor McCrory will always put corporate interests before the people of North Carolina."
Flooding across North Carolina continues in the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew and Gov. McCrory said some rivers are still rising. McCrory also warned that conditions in central and eastern parts of the state remain "extremely dangerous."
After surveying the damage, environmentalists are expressing concerns after they found flooding at factory farms and coal ash sites fearing toxins could spread through miles of waterways.
The Washington Post reports "at least tens of thousands of chickens, hogs and other livestock are feared dead in floodwaters that washed over factory farms and towns in eastern North Carolina following the storm."
Rick Dove / Waterkeeper Alliance
According to Donna Lisenby of Waterkeeper Alliance, who is documenting the record-setting environmental impacts in the wake of Hurricane Matthew, "There are tens of thousands of dead animals who remained locked in buildings while operators ignored dire flood warnings and left them to die."
Environmental organizations and government agencies surveying areas in Cumberland and Robinson counties found at least a half-dozen poultry houses completely flooded.
Rick Dove / Waterkeeper Alliance
In a briefing Tuesday morning, McCrory said "a lot of poultry and animals—a lot, thousands" already had drowned, the Washington Post reported.
Following a helicopter tour late Tuesday afternoon, Rick Dove of Waterkeeper Alliance told The Washington Post he estimated the number of dead chickens "is probably in the millions" and that he saw thousands of floating carcasses.
In addition to concerns over the potential devastating impacts flooded factory farms could have on the environment and public health, Waterkeeper Alliance is worried that rising water at the Neuse and Cape Fear rivers will continue to breach the coal ash pond dams at the state's power plants and spread toxins throughout the region. These two rivers have the highest concentration of massive industrial sites with waste ponds larger than football stadiums.
Lee coal ash pond on Neuse RiverRick Dove / Waterkeeper Alliance
Waterkeeper Alliance staff attorney Pete Harrison and Upper Neuse Riverkeeper Matt Starr posted a video Tuesday of their inspection of the rising floodwaters. They found that the flooded waters already reached two Duke Energy coal ash ponds and were impinging on a third.
"As flood waters continue to rise in some areas of North Carolina we expect this disaster to continue for several more days and may get worse," Lisenby said. "We have 11 members of our rapid response team in the air and on the water and will continue provide information."
Rachel Maddow reported on these issues on her MSNBC show, The Rachel Maddow Show, Tuesday. Duke Energy told Maddow they are continuing to inspect the dams at their active coal ash ponds and that they don't see flooding as an imminent threat.
Waterkeeper Alliance and the Riverkeeper organizations said they will continue to keep a close eye on this issue.
Hurricane Matthew wasn't an ordinary storm. It killed more than a thousand people in Haiti and at least 20 in the U.S. Its trail of widespread devastation was shocking and it will take the affected regions time to recover.
But while 1.5 million people were being asked by Republican governors to head to safety for the fear for their lives, Drudge wondered if the government was lying to its people to "make an exaggerated point on climate." During the time when hurricane-related reported deaths in Haiti jumped from 20 to more than 300, Drudge questioned National Hurricane Center's data in a now-infamous tweet. Several people (such as Jason Samenow of WaPo and Libby Nelson of Vox) wrote against his outrageous claims for not only trying to score cheap political gains but also putting lives in danger.
Without having any other evidence to disprove the solid climate science linking Hurricane Matthew to climate change, the denial community has been repeating one fact ad nauseam—the arbitrarily defined "major hurricane drought." It's a classic case of cherry-picking data that trivializes the lives disrupted and lost by major storms like Matthew, Sandy and others.
While the U.S. has been fortunate that no hurricane has made landfall in the past decade as a Category 3 or higher, the fact remains that hurricane activity in the Atlantic basin has increased since the 1970s. And there is also increasing evidence of landfalling typhoons in Asia have become more intense over the last four decades due to warmer waters. Politifact has a great article on this subject.
From the time it became apparent that the hurricane will seriously impact the U.S., everyone swung into action. Experts sought to look for climate signals to understand in advance what potential impacts might be. Governors announced states of emergency and mandated evacuations. Climate deniers peddled conspiracy theories.
While most stocked up on food and water, deniers were content with tin foil.
By Jeff Masters and Bob Henson
After a devastating 12-day rampage from the Caribbean to the U.S. Mid-Atlantic, Hurricane Matthew was reclassified as a post-tropical cyclone at 5 a.m. EDT Sunday by the National Hurricane Center (NHC). Matthew wasn't exactly slacking off—its top sustained winds remained 75 mph as of NHC's 2 p.m. Sunday advisory—but it no longer had the warm core required for tropical-cyclone status. At 2 p.m. EDT, Matthew was located about 150 miles east of Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, moving east at 15 mph. After days of computer models suggesting a potential loop back toward Florida, it now appears Matthew will continue eastward and gradually dissipate.
Hurricane Matthew took at least 1,000 lives in Haiti and left entire towns across southern Haiti almost completely destroyed.arif_shamim
It will be some time before we have a more complete sense of Matthew's toll, but we already know that it is the deadliest hurricane in the Western Hemisphere since 2005. In Haiti, Matthew took at least 1,000 lives and left entire towns across southern Haiti almost completely destroyed. A handful of deaths and significant damage were also reported in Cuba, Jamaica, The Bahamas, Colombia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, and the Dominican Republic. After Haiti, it was the U.S. that took the worst of Matthew's wrath. At least 17 U.S. deaths have been reported and insured damage is expected to total at least $4 billion. See our Saturday post for details on how you can provide much-needed help to those struggling with the aftermath of Matthew.
From Florida to Virginia, Astounding Rains and Storm Surge
Matthew traced a path remarkably similar to the coastline of the Southeast U.S. Although its center stayed within about 50 miles of the coast for more than 36 hours and hundreds of miles, Matthew officially came ashore only briefly as a Category 1 hurricane along the South Carolina and North Carolina coast on Saturday afternoon. Matthew's overall path kept its strongest winds just offshore, with few or no reports of sustained hurricane-force winds along the Southeast U.S. coast. Top wind gusts compiled by weather.com included 107 mph at Cape Canaveral, Florida (collected on a tower 54 feet above ground level) and 96 mph at Tybee Island, Georgia.
Matthew's just-offshore track may have spared the Southeast from billions of dollars in wind damage, but it didn't keep the hurricane from packing a phenomenal punch in the form of water. Like several other U.S. hurricanes in the last decade, including Ike (2008) and Sandy (2012), Matthew delivered a much more severe storm surge than one might expect from its landfall strength, thanks to the water built up by much higher winds earlier in its life offshore. Matthew's track along the concave Southeast coast also enhanced its ability to produce high surge. Major storm surge was reported as far north as the Hampton Roads area of southeast Virginia, which received an unexpectedly powerful blow from Matthew that also included tropical-storm-strength sustained winds (including a peak gust of 75 mph at Oceana Naval Air Station in Virginia Beach) and torrential rain.
As of 8 a.m. EDT Sunday, Oct. 9, here are the approximate peak storm surges observed over the preceding 48 hours at all the tide gauges with a long-term period of record (at least a few decades) along the coasts of northern Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina and Virginia. (Storm surge is the added water produced by a storm atop the normal tidal cycles).
- 7.8' Fort Pulaski, Georgia
- 6.4' Fernandina Beach, Florida
- 6.1' Charleston, South Carolina
- 4.5' Mayport, Florida
- 4.4' Springmaid Pier, South Carolina
- 4.1' Wilmington, North Carolina
- 4.1' Money Point (Norfolk), Virgina
- 3.5' Sewells Point (Norfolk), Virgina
- 3.3' Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel, Virgina
- 2.6' Beaufort, North Carolina
Fort Pulaski, Georgia: 5.06'
Previous record: 3.40' during the Oct. 15, 1947 hurricane (records since 1935).
Wilmington, North Carolina: 3.53'
Previous record 3.47', during Hurricane Hazel on Oct. 15, 1954 (records since 1935).
Mayport, Florida: 3.28'
Previous record: 2.47', during Hurricane Jeanne on Sept. 27, 2004 (records since 1928).
Near-record high water levels were observed at three other stations:
At Charleston South Carolina, the water level during the Saturday morning high tide was the third highest on record: 3.53'. The record: 6.76' during Hurricane Hugo on Sept. 21, 1989; second highest, 4.47' during the Aug. 11, 1940 hurricane (records since 1921).
At Fernandina Beach, Florida, the water level during Friday afternoon's high tide was the second highest on record: 4.17'. The record: 6.91' during the Oct. 2, 1898 hurricane (records since 1897).
At Springmaid Pier, South Carolina the water level during Saturday afternoon's high tide was the second highest on record: 2.66'. The record 3.65', during the Jan. 1, 1987 nor'easter (records since 1957).
Multi-sensor analysis of precipitation for the 7-day period from 8:00 a.m. EDT Sunday, Oct. 2, to Sunday, Oct. 9. Nearly all of the precipitation shown across the Southeast fell during Hurricane Matthew. NOAA / NWS Advanced Hydrologic Prediction Service
Torrential Rains Wallop Unexpectedly Large Parts of the Carolinas and Virginia
Forecasters knew for days that extremely heavy rain was likely to develop on the north side of Matthew as it moved up the Southeast coast. As hurricanes move into the midlatitudes, they often interact with pre-existing frontal systems that intensify the rain-making processes on the poleward side of the storm. Matthew ended up generating torrential rain near the Southeast coast, as predicted, but it also produced record-smashing rainfall well inland and considerably further north than expected, especially over North Carolina and southeast Virginia. More than 880 rescues had taken place across North Carolina as of Sunday morning, according to Gov. Pat McCrory.
Here are the highest storm totals observed in each state along Matthew's path as of 11 a.m. EDT Sunday:
- Florida: 7.89", Sanford/Orlando
- Georgia: 17.49", Savannah/Hunter Army Air Field
- South Carolina: 14.04", Beaufort MCAS
- North Carolina: 15.65", William O. Huske Locke 3
- Virginia: 12.84", 10 miles northwest of Chesapeake
- Maryland: 5.52", 6 miles south of Berlin
- Delaware: 3.13", Seaford
From Friday into Saturday, Savannah International Airport broke the city's official 24-hour rainfall record of 11.44" on Sept. 17-18, 1928, according to Weather Underground weather historian Christopher Burt. It's quite possible that an even higher 24-hour reading will be confirmed from one of the other Savannah-area reporting stations, as suggested by the storm total above.
Norfolk, Virginia, received 7.44" of rain on Saturday, making it the city's wettest October day on record (beating 6.23" from Oct. 17, 1999). Little more than three months ago, Norfolk set its all-time July calendar-day rainfall record with 6.98" on the 31st.
Raleigh-Durham International Airport picked up 6.45" on Saturday, beating the area's previous all-time calendar-day rainfall record of 5.96" set on Oct. 1, 1929. Raleigh-area records extend back to 1887.
Perhaps the single most phenomenal record on Saturday was at Fayetteville, North Carolina, where 14.00" of rain was reported on Saturday. This demolished the city's previous all-time calendar-day record of 6.80" observed during Hurricane Floyd on Sept. 16, 1999. In fact, there are only four entire months in Fayetteville weather history that have received more rain than Fayetteville picked up in 24 hours on Saturday! Fayetteville records extend back to 1871. The flooding situation in the Fayetteville area was made even worse by very heavy rains observed in parts of the area during late September.
Record Atmospheric Moisture Contributed to Matthew's Deluge
Several locations along Matthew's path through the Southeast recorded incredibly high amounts of atmospheric moisture on Friday and Saturday. At least two sites had record amounts of precipitable water (the total amount of liquid water that would cover the ground over a given location if all the moisture in a column of air above was condensed). These readings are taken with radiosonde soundings (balloon-borne instrument packages) that have been conducted regularly since 1948.
Jacksonville, Florida: 2.85" at 8 p.m. EDT Friday
Previous record: 2.82" on July 20, 1983.
Charleston, South Carolina: 2.93" at 2 a.m. EDT Saturday (special sounding)
Previous record: 2.70" on Aug. 15, 2010.
2nd place: Newport/Cape Hatteras, North Carolina: 2.85" at 8 p.m. EDT Saturday
Record: 3.05" on Aug. 27, 2011.
Matthew's Place in Hurricane Annals
Dr. Phil Klotzbach (Colorado State University) has assembled a handy list of the many records set during Matthew's long life. Here are a few highlights:
Intensity: Matthew was the lowest-latitude Category 5 hurricane on record in the Atlantic. Its strengthening of 80 mph in just 24 hours was the third fastest on record for the Atlantic, behind only Wilma (2005) and Felix (2007).
Longevity: Matthew maintained Category 4 or 5 strength for 102 hours, the longest such stretch on record for October in the Atlantic. Its 7.25 days as a major storm (Category 3 or stronger) is the fifth longest such period for any hurricane since satellite observations began in the Atlantic in 1966.
Landfall: Matthew is the first storm on record to make landfall as a major hurricane in Haiti, Cuba and the Bahamas. Since 1866, the only two hurricanes to strike the Bahamas at Category 4 strength in October are Matthew and last year's Joaquin. Matthew's landfall near Myrtle Beach made it the first hurricane to strike the U.S. Atlantic coast north of Georgia in October since Hazel (1954).
Enhanced infrared image of Tropical Storm Nicole as of 1745Z (1:45 p.m. EDT) Sunday, Oct. 9.CIRA / CSU / RAMMB
A New Lease on Life for Nicole
Tropical Storm Nicole continues to languish in the open Atlantic. As of 11 a.m. EDT Sunday, Nicole was nearly stationary, spinning about 575 miles south of Bermuda with top sustained winds of around 60 mph. As a blocking ridge to its north moves eastward, Nicole should begin moving north an at increasing rate over the next couple of days. By midweek, it will be over the record-warm waters of the subtropical North Atlantic, which helped boost Hurricane Gaston to Category 3 strength at latitude 30°N in late August. With wind shear over Nicole decreasing by midweek, the storm may a chance to regain much of the strength it had on Friday. The 12Z Sunday run of the HWRF, one of our best intensity models, brings Nicole back to Category 2 strength by late this week. Our best track models (the GFS, ECMWF and UKMET) differ on whether Nicole will pass to the west or the east of Bermuda around Thursday. Given this uncertainty, as well as Nicole's potential to intensify, Bermudians should monitor this storm closely.
Reposted with permission from our media associate Weather Underground.
Matt Drudge Joins Rush Limbaugh's Conspiracy Theory That Meteorologists Are Lying About Hurricane Matthew
By Brendan Karet
As millions evacuate the East Coast of Florida in preparation for Hurricane Matthew, which has already been responsible for more than 113 deaths across the Caribbean, the curator of the most widely read conservative website, Matt Drudge, irresponsibly peddled a conspiracy theory that federal officials have exaggerated the danger posed by Hurricane Matthew "to make exaggerated point on climate."
On Oct. 6, Drudge claimed "the deplorables" were wondering if the government was lying about the intensity of the deadly hurricane and also questioned the legitimacy of the National Hurricane Center's data:
Drudge also used his website, one of the most widely read sites on the internet, DrudgeReport.com to put Florida residents in danger and push the conspiracy theory with a banner titled "STORM FIZZLE? MATTHEW LOOKS RAGGED!," alongside links titled "IT'S A 4?" and "RESIDENTS NOT TAKING SERIOUSLY..."
In direct contrast to Drudge, Republican Florida Gov. Rick Scott warned those in the hurricane's path that "this storm will kill you," while Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) described the storm as "dangerous." Fox News host Shepard Smith warned Floridians that if they did not evacuate "you and everyone you know is dead" and that "you can't survive it," while The National Weather Service for Melbourne, Florida warned residents that the storm was "LIFE-THREATENING" and "more impacting than Hurricane David and 2004 hurricanes!":
Drudge joined Rush Limbaugh in peddling irresponsible conspiracy theories about the hurricane, placing their audience in danger. Earlier, Limbaugh downplayed the storm by ranting about "politics in the forecasting of hurricanes because there are votes" and previously claimed the National Hurricane Center is "playing games" with "hurricane forecasting" to convince viewers of climate change.
Update: Conspiracy theorist and Trump ally Alex Jones retweeted Matt Drudge, expressing support and agreement with his dangerous hurricane conspiracy while adding the white supremacist "altright" hashtag:
Reposted with permission from our media associate Media Matter for America.