Ophelia brings unexpected impacts

Climate Change, Environmental, Flooding, Neuse River Watershed, Sound Rivers, Tar-Pamlico Watershed, Water Quality

Posted on September 28th, 2023

The marina on Runyon Creek, just off the Pamlico River in Washington Park, was inundated with floodwater from Tropical Storm Opheliia.

By Sound Rivers Executive Director Heather Deck

Tropical Storm Ophelia dumped significant rainfall across our region within the forecasted amounts. Storm surge, however, exceeded National Weather Service predictions for the Pamlico River, catching many residents by surprise. There were numerous reports of damage to homes, businesses and several boats that were swept away by the rising river and crashing waves on the Pamlico and nearby creeks. 

The US Geological Service gauge in Washington noted that the Pamlico River rose to 6.98 feet at its highest peak on Saturday, a full foot above the prediction level and just shy of major flood stage. This was the third highest crest since Hurricane Irene in 2011 (8.46 ft) and Florence in 2018 (9.48 ft). Since records have been kept at this location, this is the 11th highest recorded peak. The highest was 10.56 ft in 1913. This surge affected Washington, Belhaven and other communities and residents along the Pamlico River. 

What caught most by surprise was the rate at which the river rose. At 4 a.m. Saturday morning, the river was at 3.55 feet, but at 10:45 a.m., it peaked at 6.98. When the storm winds shifted, the river fell back to 4 feet at 4:15 p.m., a level that is below flood stage. 

The City of Greenville experienced significant urban flooding, caused from rainfall. Green Mill Run, which runs through the heart of the city, rose to an amazing 10.81 feet, just under major flood stage. 

On the Neuse River, the river reached 4 to 5 feet above normally dry ground in New Bern near Union Point Park and in Arapaho, and 3 feet in Bayboro along Bay River.

The rainfall did result in several sewage-related upsets in Neuse basin communities. The city of Havelock had a 36,000-gallon sewer spill, resulting in untreated, raw sewage entering into Joes Branch, a tributary of Slocum Creek. The City of Kinston’s treatment plant experienced significant flow, and, as reported by North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality, the city had a bypass of some effluent. A bypass means the waste was partially treated before being discharged. With the amount of rainfall, it is a good sign that other municipal wastewater treatment plants were able to operate without apparent problems. 

Washington had a total of 4.54 inches; New Bern, 6.85 inches; and Kinston, 4.41 inches.

Sound Rivers staff and volunteers are collecting bacteria samples at several locations today (Thursday), as part of our annual Swim Guide program. We will have results to report by Friday afternoon. 

National Weather Service staff take high water measurement at Washington Park.

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