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North Carolina unveils new flood-warning system for roads

A North Carolina resident sits on his staircase, staring into the water that surrounded his home after Florence hit Emerald Isle, N.C.
Tom Copeland
A North Carolina resident sits on his staircase, staring into the water that surrounded his home after Hurricane Florence hit Emerald Isle, N.C. in 2018.

The North Carolina Department of Transportation has armed itself with an advanced flood-warning system designed to help pass the word to motorists on any flood risks to roads, bridges and culverts.

A news release from the department says the system will rely on a network of 400 river and stream gauges. Information will be passed on to department maintenance staff responding to flooded roads and washed-out culverts. It will also benefit local emergency management officials and the public accessing the department’s website for timely weather-related closures.

The last major storm to impact the state’s roads was Hurricane Florence in 2018. After that, the legislature gave the department a $2 million grant to develop sophisticated software and install more flood gauges. The system mostly taps into existing gauges operated by other agencies, and it includes an interactive online dashboard and flood mapping based on three-dimensional ground surveys.

One part of the new system covers almost 3,000 miles (4,828 km) of state-maintained roads, mostly east of Interstate 95. The system also will allow the department to monitor flood conditions for some 15,000 bridges and culverts statewide. The department’s hydraulics unit has been refining the system and training staff during the past year.

Strong storms on Monday left a trail of damage across central North Carolina.

Trees fell on homes in Durham and Orange counties, while lightning struck an apartment building in Chapel Hill. No one was injured, but the fire department says seven residents will have to find a new place to live. There were also widespread power outages.

Severe thunderstorms and flooding are possible in central and eastern North Carolina on Tuesday. The National Weather Service says the greatest threat is along and east of I-95.

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Bradley George is WUNC's AM reporter. A North Carolina native, his public radio career has taken him to Atlanta, Birmingham, Nashville and most recently WUSF in Tampa. While there, he reported on the COVID-19 pandemic and was part of the station's Murrow award winning coverage of the 2020 election. Along the way, he has reported for NPR, Marketplace, The Takeaway, and the BBC World Service. Bradley is a graduate of Guilford College, where he majored in Theatre and German.
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