Posted on: 06.17.2018 at 07:00 a.m.
By Jefferson Weaver
Emergency managers now have a new source of weather data to prepare for high water in Whiteville.
The Flood Inundation Mapping and Alert Network (FIMAN) station was set up on Soules Swamp several months ago, but only recently came online providing data about high water through the Swamp and into White Marsh.
The swamp overran its banks three times in 2016, resulting in the catastrophic flooding that wrecked downtown during Hurricane Matthew.
The FIMAN station records elevation of water in the swamp, rather than depth, according to the N.C. Emergency Management office, which oversees the FIMAN program across the state. Elevation of the water is much more important than depth, which is usually measured in the channel of a stream, according to Whiteville Fire Marshal Hal Lowder Jr.
“The elevation of the water at the bridge is usually 51 feet,” he explained. “At 57 feet, we know we will have a foot of water over the bridge. That means severe flooding downtown. The FIMAN gauge helps us plan, since it measures rainfall and amount of water flowing under the bridge at any time.”
Other FIMAN network gauges have already provided real-time planning data to emergency managers across the state, State Emergency Management Director Mike Sprayberry said in a statement Tuesday.
“Time and again over the last several years, we’ve used data from these flood gauges to warn residents and communities about dangerous flood conditions,” said Sprayberry.
When river levels began rising in 2017 in the Piedmont after a late-April storm dumped five to eight inches of rain, the NCEM office warned community leaders along the Neuse River what day and time the river would crest and just how high water levels would rise in their communities. The warning gave officials time to evacuate low lying areas, and stage emergency equipment to react to the flooding.
An additional 13 gauges will soon go online with the network and help alert other communities to dangerous flooding, Sprayberry said.
The closest upstream gauge that will aid Columbus County is actually in Robeson County, where Little Raft Swamp crosses Shannon Road in Red Springs. Raft Swamp feeds the Lumber, which devastated Fair Bluff and Evergreen during Hurricane Matthew. Had a FIMAN station been online on the Lumber at that time, Fair Bluff residents and business owners would have had around 30 hours of advanced warning of the potential for flooding.
Statewide, more than 560 FIMAN stations are currently online.
The systems provide measured rainfall and water levels to give advanced warning to first responders and residents who live and work near flood-prone areas. The gauges provide real-time data that is used to formulate forecasts, issue alerts and convey the anticipated flood impact to buildings and infrastructure. The data collected by NCEM is provided to federal agencies and is available through NOAA and the National Weather Service.
FIMAN can show precisely which buildings and homes will flood when local rivers or streams reach certain flood levels. During Hurricane Matthew, this capability was used to direct appropriate evacuations and resources in areas where the system was online.
Much of the flood data is available in real time through the ReadyNC mobile app developed by NCEM. App users can click on Flood Gauges to check the current status of sounds, creeks and rivers nearby to see if the water level is at normal levels or minor, moderate or major flood stage.
While the state has purchased and installed most of the gauges, some communities have partnered with NCEM to purchase devices that will provide flood information for their area.
All of the gauges will be maintained by NCEM and will be connected to the FIMAN system where the public can view the data online. The web address is https://fiman.nc.gov/fiman.
“Adding new gauges in these areas will help communities be more aware and prepared for flooding, and will allow for better warning when floods are coming,” said Sprayberry. “FIMAN is a powerful tool that helps us very accurately define what areas will be affected by flood waters, so emergency managers and local officials can take the appropriate actions to keep people safe.”