Which North Carolina Cities Have the Worst Erosion?

Water can dramatically change the landscape and put homes at risk of flood damage. Find out which cities in North Carolina are facing the biggest threat of erosion.

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North Carolina faces two different erosion threats. There’s coastal erosion that’s carving away the shoreline and putting homes along the coast at risk. There’s also inland erosion where the force of rivers and runoff is changing the landscape, widening rivers, and causing floods in new areas. 

Erosion may seem like a low-priority problem. After all, how fast can the landscape really change? However, as Cornell professor David Pimentel explains, “Erosion is one of those problems that nickel-and-dimes you to death.”

For example, when the Cape Hatteras lighthouse was built in 1870, it was 1,500 feet from the ocean. After 100 years of water slowly eroding the sand, it was just 120 feet away from the shore. The shoreline didn’t change overnight. However, losing an average of nearly 14 feet per year added up and put the structure at risk. 

Is that type of erosion happening on the waterways near your home? Let’s find out which North Carolina cities have the worst erosion. 

Where in North Carolina Has the Worst Coastal Erosion?

Let’s start by looking at erosion along the North Carolina shore. 

A 2020 peer-reviewed study from the Joint Research Center of the European Commission modeled how coastal erosion would change the shoreline, predicting how it will look in 80 years. The county-level analysis is based on 35 years of satellite imagery, 82 years of climate data, and more than 100 million storm event simulations. Erosion will cause some counties to lose more than 200 yards of shore. 

NC CountyBeach Loss from Coastal Erosion After 80 YearsCity/Beach
Onslow-219 yardsJacksonville/Hammocks Beach
Pamlico-214 yardsPamlico Sound near New Bern
Perquimans-211 yardsHertford/Albemarle Sound
Dare-207 yardsManteo/Outer Banks
Currituck-187 yardsCurrituck Sound
New Hanover-167 yardsWilmington
Hyde-150 yardsOcracoke
Pender-143 yardsTopsail Beach
Carteret-137 yardsBeaufort/Crystal Coast
Brunswick-119 yardsBrunswick Islands

The data shows that in the next 80 years, Onslow County will see the biggest changes from coastal erosion. On average, shorelines in the county will move about one-eighth of a mile inland. 

The dramatic effect of coastal erosion is due to the shape of the coastline, weather patterns, and how waves hit the shore. Plus, during big storms and hurricanes, the area’s barrier islands can get hammered, worsening the ongoing erosion issue. 

Erosion control is a big concern. The county spends about $1.2 million per year to keep the New River channel dredged and navigable. Meanwhile, on North Topsail Beach, erosion is so bad that when nearly a mile of dredged sand was added as shoreline protection, it washed away within a year. Homes on North Topsail have already been lost because of erosion, and other areas are using sandbags as protection.

Attribution: @dvergano – Twitter

Which Cities in North Carolina Have the Worst Inland Water Erosion?

Of course, the ocean isn’t the only water threat in North Carolina. The state’s steep slopes mean that waterways and runoff are carrying away soil with each heavy rainstorm or flood. 

Erosion data from the USDA’s National Cooperative Soil Survey can help us understand which counties face the biggest water erosion threat. The data below compares K factor erosion, which is the susceptibility of whole soil to sheet and rill erosion by water. 

RankCityErosion Survey AreaErodibility Index
1DurhamDurham County0.30
2New BernCraven County0.26
3RaleighWake County0.25
4GreensboroGuilford County0.23
5Winston-SalemForsyth County0.22
6CharlotteMecklenburg County0.21
7AshevilleBuncombe County0.21
8FayettevilleCumberland County0.18

Raleigh and Winston-Salem have similar erosion rates. However, the data shows that erosion varies within the state. Durham has the highest erosion rate of the cities measured. Fayetteville has the lowest erosion rate. 

Durham’s high erosion rates go hand in hand with its high rates of flooding. Many roads flood during storms, and homeowners could be at risk from changing waterways and stormwater. Flood Factor estimates that flooding in Durham County causes about $2.2 million in damages each year. 

What Can You Do to Protect Your Home from Erosion and Water Damage?

Whether you’re fighting coastal erosion or inland erosion, the biggest threat to your home is water. A flood in your home can be so damaging that just one inch of water can cause $25,000 in damage, according to FEMA. 

Each home faces different structural concerns, and to help you understand the solutions that can protect your home, Tar Heel Basement Systems offers free home inspections

  • Floor stabilization can help you address problems with weak soil by improving how the load of your house is distributed. 
  • Basement waterproofing can help you address water seepage and moisture that can cause your home to deteriorate. 
  • Sump pumps can help you quickly remove water from your home, and systems that have a backup battery will keep working even if the power goes out. 
  • Drainage systems can direct water out of your home and away from your foundation. 
  • Encapsulation creates a tough barrier that keeps water vapor and moisture out of your home. 

Learn more about how you can protect your home from flood damage, and get help from a pro by scheduling a free inspection.