Here’s what the devastating flooding from Florence looks like from space

By Tom Yulsman | September 19, 2018 10:27 am
An animation of before and after images acquired by NASA's Terra satellite shows flooding in the wake of Florence across southeastern North Carolina and northeastern South Carolina. (Source: Modified from CIMSS Satellite Blog)

An animation of before and after images acquired by NASA’s Terra satellite shows flooding in the wake of Florence across southeastern North Carolina and northeastern South Carolina. (Source: Modified from CIMSS Satellite Blog)

You’ve probably seen imagery shot in the Carolinas showing the devastating flooding that Hurricane Florence left its wake. Now, check out what that flooding looks like from space — in the before-and-after animation above of false-color satellite images.

The images were acquired by NASA’s bus-sized Terra satellite, which circles Earth in a polar orbit 483 above the surface. The before image was captured on August 26th; the after image on September 18th.

Flooded waterways in the post-storm image appear in dark blue. As I’m writing this on Sept. 19, at least 16 rivers remain at a major flood stage. And others have yet to crest.

Florence flooding

Radar loops covering a 104-hour period show Florence’s slow march through the Carolinas. (For more animations, go here.  Source: Brian McNoldy, Univ. of Miami, Rosenstiel School)

As Florence slowed after landfall, and crawled along the Carolina’s coast at a mere 2 to 3 miles per hour, it dumped huge amounts of rain for a prolonged period. North Carolina experienced 35.93 inches of rainfall — a new state record for precipitation from a tropical cyclone. South Carolina experienced its own new record at 23.63 inches.

The devastation from Florence includes at least 35 fatalities, according to a dispatch from Reuters. More than 15,000 people remain in shelters.

Yesterday, another horrible impact of Florence became known: 3.4 million chickens and turkeys, and 5,500 hogs have been killed in the flooding.

Floodwaters have also caused waste from hog farms to flow into waterways. As of noon yesterday (Sept 18), waste from 13 North Carolina “swine lagoons” had flowed into waterways, according to the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality. Overtopping of an additional 30 lagoons was likely.

Floodwaters have also breached facilities where coal ash from power plants is stored. Coal ash is laced with toxic and cancer-causing chemicals, including arsenic, lead, mercury, cadmium, chromium and selenium.

Torrential rain and resulting flooding caused the wall of a coal ash landfill near Duke Energy’s L.V. Sutton power plant to fail in several places. “By Saturday, Duke Energy estimated, the storm had washed away more than 2,000 cubic yards of coal waste — enough to fill more than 150 dump trucks,” according to the Washington Post.

  • Mike Richardson

    I hope that in the aftermath of this flood, North Carolina reconsiders some of the lax environmental laws that allowed this disaster to become a much worse public health hazard than it would have otherwise been. Flood water is never safe, but when it’s contaminated with coal ash, concentrated hog manure, and dead livestock, it’s nothing less than a massive toxic waste spill. Considering that such flooding events from hurricanes, tropical storms, and even just stalled heavy precipitation systems are apparently becoming more common due to climate change, local, state, and federal regulators need to do more to help prevent floods from becoming true environmental disasters.

    • John C

      Right, vote Democrat, that’ll solve it all.

      Give it a rest already.

      • Mike Richardson

        If they support changes such as I described above, they’ll do a much better job than the conservative status quo that allowed the situation to get so extreme. So no, I think I’ll pass on giving it a rest, thanks.



ImaGeo is a visual blog focusing on the intersection of imagery, imagination and Earth. It focuses on spectacular visuals related to the science of our planet, with an emphasis (although not an exclusive one) on the unfolding Anthropocene Epoch.

About Tom Yulsman

Tom Yulsman is Director of the Center for Environmental Journalism and a Professor of Journalism at the University of Colorado, Boulder. He also continues to work as a science and environmental journalist with more than 30 years of experience producing content for major publications. His work has appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post, Audubon, Climate Central, Columbia Journalism Review, Discover, Nieman Reports, and many other publications. He has held a variety of editorial positions over the years, including a stint as editor-in-chief of Earth magazine. Yulsman has written one book: Origins: the Quest for Our Cosmic Roots, published by the Institute of Physics in 2003.


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