- Hurricane Florence, now a Category 3 storm with maximum sustained winds of 120 mph, is barreling towards the Carolinas.
- The National Hurricane Center warned that it could bring “life-threatening storm surge and rainfall” to the Carolinas and mid-Atlantic states, with tropical-storm-force winds arriving Thursday.
- Hurricane and storm surge warnings are in effect from the Santee River in South Carolina to Duck, North Carolina.
- “Disaster is at the doorstep,” North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper warned.
A Category 3 hurricane with maximum sustained winds of up to 120 mph is headed for the Carolinas, bringing a risk of life-threatening storm surge and rainfall.
Hurricane Florence‘s center is expected to make landfall somewhere near the border between North and South Carolina on Saturday morning, according to the National Hurricane Center (NHC), though the storm’s intensity will be felt starting Thursday.
“We have to get ready today,” NHC Director Ken Graham said in a Facebook video posted Wednesday afternoon.
The NHC has issued hurricane and storm surge warnings for the coastal areas between the South Santee River in South Carolina and Duck, North Carolina as well as Albemarle and Pamlico Sounds.
Powerful waves and walls of water are expected to rush inland when the storm arrives, bringing catastrophic flooding. North Carolina’s barrier islands, from Cape Fear to Cape Lookout could see the biggest storm surge: between 9 and 13 feet.
“Florence is forecast to be an extremely dangerous major hurricane when it nears the US coast late Thursday and Friday,” the National Hurricane center said on Wednesday afternoon.
Much of the rest of the Carolina coastline, from the Virginia border down to Edisto Beach, South Carolina is under hurricane and storm surge watch. Florence is expected to slow down considerably late Thursday and Friday, according to the NHC, meaning it will likely sit over the Carolinas late into the weekend, pounding the area near the shore with rain.
“If you’ve been asked to leave, get out,” Brock Long, the administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency said in an Oval Office briefing Tuesday afternoon.
President Donald Trump echoed Long’s concern.
“You have to listen to your local authorities,” Trump said from the Oval Office. “You have to listen and get out. Because once the storm hits, it’s going to be really bad, and almost impossible to get authorities in to help.”
Florence is located about 385 miles southeast of Wilmington, North Carolina, and is moving northwest at 16 mph.
The hurricane could inundate low-lying islands off the coast of North Carolina, like the Outer Banks and other barrier islands, according to the NHC’s “cone of probability” forecast. Heavy rainfall, up to 10 inches, may extend as far inland as Charlotte, North Carolina’s largest city, and Raleigh, its capital.
The NHC also said the storm’s effects — including rain, high winds, rip currents, and tidal surges — would most likely be felt outside the “cone of probability” and could extend hundreds of miles from the storm’s center.
In North Carolina, evacuations have been ordered in Dare County, which includes the Outer Banks, as well as other coastal counties, according to The Observer. The orders affect roughly 250,000 residents.
“Everyone in Dare County is encouraged to evacuate as soon as possible regardless of the established time frames,” the county’s emergency-management agency said Monday.
In a press conference on Wednesday, North Carolina’s governor, Roy Cooper, warned residents: “Disaster is at the doorstep. If you’re on the coast there is still time to get out safely.”
The storm could leave thousands of buildings flooded. Duke Energy, the Carolinas’ major power supplier, said up to 3 million customers could lose power, perhaps for weeks, according to The New York Times.
“This may be a marathon, not a sprint,” Cooper added.
Five states have declared states of emergency ahead of the storm: Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, and Maryland, along with Washington, DC.
Evacuation orders are in place in one of South Carolina’s four coastal counties. Virginia’s governor, Ralph Northam, issued a mandatory evacuation order for residents of the state’s low-lying coastal areas as well.
“This is a serious storm and it’s going to affect the entire state of Virginia,” Northam said on Monday evening, per a local NBC affiliate.
The latest Florence forecast
Florence is currently a Category 3 hurricane, meaning it has wind speeds of 111 to 129 mph.
“This is a life-threatening situation,” the National Hurricane Center said on Wednesday morning. “There is a danger of life-threatening inundation, from rising water moving inland from the coastline, during the next 36 hours.”
Predicting hurricane paths is a difficult science, and there are still uncertainties about this storm’s track. But if predictions hold, Florence’s center could make landfall in South Carolina on Saturday morning, just south of the border.
The chart below shows the probability that an area that will see winds of at least 39 mph. The area in purple corresponds to a 90% or higher probability of experiencing those gusts.
Heavy rains are expected
Hurricane Florence is predicted to slow over the Carolinas and Virginia, where rainfall totals could reach 40 inches.
Sluggish or stalled hurricanes — like Hurricane Harvey, which flooded swaths of Houston, Texas, and the Gulf Coast last year — can become even more dangerous as they stick around, pouring rain.
These types of slow-moving hurricanes are becoming more frequent. Recent research from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration found that storms had slowed by an average of 10% over land between 1949 and 2016.
Three other name storms are churning in the Atlantic as well.
Tropical Storm Isaac is about 295 miles east of Martinique, with sustained wind speeds of 60 mph. The NHC has issued a tropical storm warning for the islands of Martinique, Dominica, and Guadeloupe.
Hurricane Helene has wind speeds of 85 mph, but is not close enough to land for any watches or warnings to be in effect. And subtropical storm Joyce has sustained wind speeds of 45 mph.
Meanwhile, in the Pacific Ocean, Tropical Storm Olivia is heading toward the Hawaiian island of Lanai, moving West with 45 mph winds. A tropical storm warning is in effect for Oahu and Maui county. Dangerously high surf is expected to last through the night on the main Hawaiian islands, according to the NHC.
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