Hurricane Florence, now downgraded to a Category 1 hurricane from its original Category 4 status, has offically made landfall in South and North Carolina. Audubon has state offices, centers, sanctuaries, and chapters in both states. While our staff keeps safe during the storm and assesses damage after it passes through, this post will serve as a live-update blog for Audubon-related news from the areas affected by Florence.
Update: September 17, 2018 1:30 p.m. EDT
Audubon staff in the Carolinas report that they are all safe, and that both Pine Island Audubon Center in North Carolina, and Beidler Forest Audubon Center in South Carolina, emerged from the storm unscathed. It is not known how the storm affected some of our smaller coastal sanctuaries that dot the shores of those two states. Audubon's Walker Golder says that he'll go out and survey some of those sanctuaries as early as tomorrow or Wednesday.
Update: September 14, 2018 11:30 a.m. EDT
As Audubon staff continues to ride out the storm, a report from Audubon's Walker Golder, located in Wilmington, suggests that the storm surge and flooding could pose the biggest risks to people and cause the most damage to structures and habitats along the North Carolina coast.
"The eye passed through around 7-8 a.m. There is significant tree damage and power has been out since 1:30 a.m. Power went out earlier in some areas. It might be days or a week/more before power is restored. I heard minimal damage so far on Wrightsville Beach, but high tide is 11:30 a.m-12 p.m. and storm surge is expected to be 8'. Storm bands still have strong winds. It's too dangerous to get out to see other areas. I have not seen or heard any birds during the storm."
Update: September 14, 2018 10:00 a.m. EDT
Hurricane Florence, which has made landfall earlier this morning and is currently battering South Carolina and North Carolina with heavy winds and rain. While we wait for updates from the field, we wanted to highlight the below tweet showing how many birds are currently stuck in the middle of the hurricane.
Was checking out #hurricane #Florence and decided to peak the differential reflectivity for fun in @RadarScope and yep, sure enough, birds! Those areas of red and pink you see in the eye are actually birds that are trapped in the storm! pic.twitter.com/LIuSjrofRr— Aaron Duke (@aacduke) September 14, 2018
This not an unusual phenomenon, as Audubon's Field Editor Kenn Kaufman has explained before:
"The birds get into the end of the hurricane’s spiral and they move toward the eye of the hurricane. They may not necessarily do that in any organized way; more likely they’re out there in all this wild wind and when they chance into the calm of the eye they may make an effort to stay there and travel with it rather than fighting the winds again.
When the storm reaches land, some of them may start fighting the winds. Others may go with it and travel with the eye until the hurricane dissipates. The majority of seabirds, if they are not too weakened from having flown for so long without food, will probably find their way back to shore quickly. They have great powers of navigation."
Update: September 13, 2018, 5:30 p.m. EDT
Walker Golder, Audubon's Director of Atlantic Flyway Coast Strategy, lives in Wilmington, North Carolina, and will be providing regular updates during Hurricane Florence and on the storm's aftermath. Below are two dispatches as the storm approached.
"The first of bands with strong wind and rain have reached Wilmington. The wind is 30-35. The storm surge is probably 2-3 feet near Wilmington and will increase. The surge will be significant tonight—around 11 at high tide and tomorrow around noon. I hear some of Highway 12 in the Outer Banks is overwashing, which is not unusual. The winds will increase steadily. The storm is about 90 miles from Wilmington and movement has slowed to about 5 mph. This is the beginning."
"Reports from friends on the Outer Banks are road flooding and overwash. Some of the oceanfront homes that were threatened by previous storms may not make it. News shows significant flooding in New Bern, NC."
September 12, 2018
What We’re Watching
- After the storm passes, as soon as it is safe to do so, Audubon staff will be surveying the damage.
- Storm surge, winds, waves, and floodwaters can deposit debris and trash onto delicate ecosystems.
- Floodwaters might wash pollutants from a variety of industries into local waterways and the surrounding habitats.
- Storm surges can erode natural barriers between freshwater and saltwater habitats. We expect to see some saltwater incusion into the freshwater marshes behind some barrier islands, disrupting those habitats. We do not know to what extent that will occur and will assess the situation once the storm has passed.
- Conversely, those same storm surges can drop needed sand onto barrier islands, helping build them up. We will be monitoring places like Pine Island Sanctuary in North Carolina, and Crab Bank Island in South Carolina, for storm-related changes.
- Storm surge overwash also brings nutrients into the brackish back-bay habitats where shorebirds and wading birds forage, meaning that in the next few weeks they might have even more food to fuel their migrations southward.
- Shorebird and seabird migration is in full swing, and we will be monitoring local birds for any negative effects of the storm. These include a variety of sandpipers; Piping and Semipalmated Plovers; Least, Royal, Gull-billed, Common, and Forster’s Terns; and larger shorebirds like Whimbrels and Godwits. Almost all 2018 nestlings have fledged, and we know that birds are very good at riding out—or flying away from—bad weather. As of last week, only one Brown Pelican colony in North Carolina still had unfledged chicks; chances are good that these chicks will survive, so long as they do not get separated from their parents. We will be monitoring this colony in the aftermath of the storm.
- The Donal O’Brien Audubon Center and Sanctuary at Pine Island, is closed. Reopening date TBD.
- Audubon South Carolina's Francis Beidler Forest is open today, but closed Thursday and Friday. Reopening date TBD.
- Audubon South Carolina's Silver Bluff Center and Sanctuary is open with normal operating hours.