Remembering Hurricane Floyd Five Years Later
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Believe it or not, September 16, 2004 is the fifth anniversary of Hurricane Floyd's landfall over the Outer Banks of North Carolina. Over the next days and weeks, the effects of this devastating storm would be felt from Eastern North Carolina to Central New Jersey with heavy rain and severe flooding.

Floyd, which at one point was a very powerful Category Four Hurricane with 150 mph winds, caused the largest peacetime evacuation in the United States as some three million people from South Florida all the way to North Carolina fled in advance of the storm. Floyd, which was the third Category Four storm of the 1999 season behind Bret and Cindy, was probably the most memorable storm of the year.

Looking back at the storm, we discovered that Floyd's lowest pressure ever recorded was 27.20 inches of Hg, which was actually lower than Hurricane Andrew when it struck South Florida in August, 1992. It was also not far off from Hurricane Ivan, which recently slammed into the Gulf Coast of Alabama as a Category Three Hurricane. At one point, Ivan was a Category Five storm with a minimum pressure of 910 mb, which ranks sixth all time. So in terms of its peak intensity, Floyd was one of the strongest storms recorded in the Atlantic Basin.

Floyd will always be remembered though as a major rain producer. It dumped rainfall amounts up to a couple feet in some areas of North Carolina while as far north as New Jersey, the hurricane, which had been downgraded to a tropical storm by this point, devastated small towns along the Raritan River with rainfall amounts of around 15 inches.



Reviewing Floyd Facts

This is the first of a number of pictures that I took during and after Tropical Storm Floyd passed. In this photo, the rainfall from Floyd is already making an impact with flooding already starting to occur.

Hurricane Floyd, a classic Cape Verde storm, which ended up being both one of the most costliest storms on record, and one of the most deadliest, started its life as a depression in the warm waters of the Tropical Central Atlantic on September 7th, 1999.

The storm had formed on the heels of a frenetic several weeks of activity in the Atlantic that included two Category Four Hurricanes: Bret and Cindy, and a Category Two Hurricane in Dennis that meandered off the Mid-Atlantic coast for several days to a week.

Floyd, which had winds between 150 and 155 mph, was just shy of becoming a rare Category Five Hurricane. The storm was a massive system some 400 hundred miles in diameter. With hurricane force winds that extended some 125 miles from its center, Floyd pounded parts of the Bahamas including Abaco Island, and stared down at the Florida East Coast before moving north into North Carolina as a Category Two Hurricane.

 

 

The storm as responsible for creating the largest peacetime evacuation in United States History as some 3 million people from Florida to North Carolina fled in advance of the storm. Floyd would eventually make landfall along the Outer Banks of North Carolina as a Category Two Hurricane. Most hurricanes that turn north and go up the Eastern Seaboard tend to weaken somewhat due to the influence of the prevailing westerlies, which shear the towering thunderstorm cloud tops that make these tropical monsters such vertically stacked systems.

While Floyd's winds were not as devastating as it was when it rolled through the Bahamas, the storm still packed a wallop as a major rain producer from the Mid-Atlantic into the Northeast. Even as the storm weakened to a Tropical Storm, it had an abundance of tropical moisture that exploded when the system bumped head on with the Appalachian Mountains. The orographic lifting of the moist tropical air over the rugged terrain caused tremendous amounts of condensation that resulted in torrential rains from Eastern Carolina to Central New Jersey.


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How Floyd Ranks All-Time Now

While Floyd was never a Category Five Hurricane in its life cycle, it still was quite a powerful storm when it was at its peak moving through the Bahamas. Sustained winds were as high as 155 mph, and its minimum central pressure was 921 mb, or 27.20 inches of Hg.

To put that into perspective, Hurricane Andrew, which was upgraded to a Category Five Hurricane two years ago in August, 2002, had a minimum central pressure of 922 mb, or 27.23 inches of Hg when it came into Homestead, and the South Florida area in August, 1992. Recently, Hurricane Ivan, recorded the sixth lowest pressure on record with 910 mb, or 26.87 inches of Hg.

Through the year 2000, Floyd was the third costliest hurricane on record behind Andrew at $27 billion and Hugo at $7 billion with damage estimated at $4.5 billion although we've seen some information that suggests it was much higher than that. With the devastation caused by Charley, Frances, and Ivan in 2004 as well as the devastation in Texas by Tropical Storm Allison in June, 2001, Floyd's place on this list will certainly change.

Moreover, Floyd was a deadly storm as well. This hurricane was responsible for some 56 deaths, which as of 2000, ranked it 20th all time. Floyd's position on this list will certainly change slightly with the death toll accumulated by Hurricane Ivan in the Caribbean and U.S. Gulf Coast.


This second photo was taken the day after Floyd moved through, and as you can see, the storm left behind some street flooding. It marked the second time in three years that the end of this street was flooded. Prior to that, the street hadn't experienced any flooding in nearly twenty years.


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Floyds Legacy

Floyd dumped nearly 12 inches of rain on my hometown of South Plainfield, New Jersey. Meanwhile, another county over, Bound Brook was devastated by flooding caused by over 15 inches of rain from the storm. Places in North Carolina received nearly two feet of rain, which in turn caused the Tar and Neuse Rivers to swell and spill over their banks.

Despite its tremendous power and fury that it had at its peak, and the devastation it caused in the Bahamas, Floyd's legacy will be that of a rain maker. It dumped some two feet of rain in parts of Eastern North Carolina that caused both the Tar and Neuse Rivers to swell and overflow resulting in devastating floods for that region.

Some portions of the Carolinas had continuous rainfall for over 60 hours. Wilmington received over 19 inches of rain for its storm total while another 19 plus inches fell in Bladen County. Elsewhere, rainfall ranged from 12 to 17 inches with some reports of areas receiving in excess of 23 inches of rain. Keep in mind that many of these same areas were saturated prior to Floyd's arrival due to the heavy rains from what was left of Hurricane Dennis after it finally came ashore.

As a result, the Tar River crested some 17 feet above flood stage on September 21, 1999, and the Neuse crested some 48 hours later on the 23rd at 13 feet above flood level. Tremendous flooding ensued in what various media reports indicated as a 500 year event. As Floyd continued to wind down, it headed northward spreading its heavy tropical moisture into the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast including the Garden State of New Jersey.

 

New Jersey was deluged with rain. In South Plainfield, approximately 11.67 inches of rain fell in the 12 to 18 hours Floyd affected the area. Nearby in Somerset County, places such as Bound Brook and Manville were pounded by up to 15 inches of rainfall during the same time period. Farther north, places such as Lodi and Springfield were hit hard too. In the end, the National Weather Service reported that some five rivers exceeded flood stages including the Raritan River in Central New Jersey.


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