MCDOWELL COUNTY UPDATE: A landslide has comprised the integrity of Lake Tahoma Dam. MANDATORY EVACUATIONS underway from the Dam at Lake Shore Dr to Lake Tahoma Rd (NC 80) to the confluence of the Catawba River near Resistoflex Rd and Riverside Park. ACT NOW TO PRESERVE YOUR LIFE!
— NWS GSP (@NWSGSP) May 30, 2018
The first named storm of the 2018 Atlantic hurricane season made landfall in the Florida Panhandle on Monday. Subtropical storm Alberto, which by midweek was downgraded to a tropical depression, has caused torrential rain, landslides, flash flood advisories, and winds up to 65 mph in the southeastern region of the United States.
The region experienced intense rains the week prior, saturating the ground and making it more prone to flooding and landslides. Thus far, thousands of people have been left without power in the affected areas, and states of emergency have been declared in Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, and North Carolina. Alberto is expected to stay classified as a tropical depression until it hits the Great Lakes, before incorporating into surrounding weather systems.
On Wednesday morning, a flash flood emergency was declared in many counties of central Alabama, prompting mandatory evacuations in residential areas. In a tweet, the National Weather Service warned residents to not attempt travel “unless fleeing from an area subject to flooding or under an evacuation order.”
North Carolina in particular has been severely impacted by the storm. Many areas in its western region received upwards of six inches of rain over Tuesday night, triggering landslides. One landslide hit the Lake Tahoma Dam in McDowell County, weakening its structural integrity. By midnight the dam was showing signs of leakage and a mandatory evacuation order was put in place for residents of surrounding communities. Authorities urged evacuees to seek higher ground.
After a thorough inspection by an engineer, the dam was deemed safe by 10 a.m. on Wednesday. Residents were allowed to return to their homes, although McDowell county is expected to remain under flash flood warnings until later notice.
As of Wednesday afternoon, Alberto has caused two confirmed deaths. A television news reporter and a photojournalist were killed in North Carolina when a tree, compromised by the heavy rain, fell on top of their vehicle.
Although Alberto is the first named storm, it hit land before the official start of the Atlantic hurricane season, which is officially June 1. Last year, the Atlantic experienced an “extremely active” hurricane season, producing 10 hurricanes, six of which were major (classified as Category 3, 4, or 5), and caused lasting destruction in Puerto Rico, Texas, and the Caribbean.
Experts from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predict a 75% chance that this year’s season will be near-or-above normal, with 5-9 hurricanes, 1-4 of which are expected to become major storms.
Sources and further reading
Mudslides Reported as Deadly Subtropical Storm Alberto Heads Inland – The Weather Channel
Flash Flood Emergency Declared in Alabama as Alberto Moves Inland – The Weather Channel
TV Journalists Killed After Tree Crushes S.U.V. During Storm in North Carolina – The New York Times