BEAUFORT – With Hurricane Dorian now in the rear view, hurricane and water quality expert Hans Paerl can now assess some of the damage.

The good news: It could have been a lot worse, he said. The storm didn’t hover over land, like Hurricane Florence the year before. Instead, it moved fast, which “minimized a lot of the impacts of high rainfall.”

The path was also fairly predictable, even if it was a  “strong storm.”

“On a relative scale, I would give this one a B,” said Paerl, who remained without power at his home in Beaufort on Friday evening. “People were well prepared for it down here. That was definitely a plus.”

The bad news: These storms are “getting wetter and more frequent,” leading to more human suffering, flooding and destruction, especially for people living in the coastal plains and watersheds.

“That’s just part of the pattern,” said the Kenan Professor of Marine and Environmental Sciences at the UNC-Chapel Hill Institute of Marine Sciences. “The most obvious reason would be the warming of our oceans leading to more evaporation.”

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‘His fair share of hurricanes’

Paerl has lived through his fair share of hurricanes – 10 to be exact – after residing on North Carolina’s coast for the past 40 years.

Back in July, Paerl published a study citing a “regime shift” in coastal North Carolina, with precipitation levels in recent storms being “off the charts.”

Hans Paerl, Kenan Professor of Marine and Environmental Sciences at the UNC-Chapel Hill Institute of Marine. Source: UNC Institute of Marine Sciences

Citing data accumulated since 1898, the researchers noted that six of the “highest precipitation events” such as hurricanes and tropical storms have taken place over the last 20 years – including hurricanes Floyd (1999), Matthew (2016) and Florence (2018).

It’s still unclear where Hurricane Dorian ranks on that scale, but Paerl is determined to find out.

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Early next week, he and his crews expect to start taking water samples to analyze the effects of the storm. He will be measuring nutrients, organic matter, salinity and temperature.

“We need to very carefully collect data and take good notes on that to see really how long it takes for these systems to recover, and whether we may need to take additional fisheries management steps, for example, to allow fish stocks to come back in a normal fashion in order to compensate for these repeated events that are impacting our coastal systems.”

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