September 12, 2018
An immensely powerful Hurricane Florence roared closer to the east coast on Wednesday before the storm was forecast to take a dangerous turn south and stall along the edge of North Carolina and South Carolina – bombarding the area with torrential rain, high winds and deadly storm surge Thursday through Saturday.
Hurricane Florence path shifts: Storm of a lifetime headed to Carolina coast
Hurricane winds could linger for 24 hours or more, sweeping away trees and power lines while dumping 20 to 30 inches of rain in some coastal areas, the National Hurricane Center (NHC) said. Isolated totals of 40 inches are possible.
The Category 3 storm was driving sustained winds of 125 mph and creating waves up to 83 feet, the hurricane center said. Florence was expected to reach the Carolinas overnight Thursday.
More than 1 million people have been ordered to evacuate coastal areas. Duke Energy warned that up to 75 percent of its 4 million customers in the Carolinas could lose power.
"This is not going to be a glancing blow," Federal Emergency Management Agency's Jeff Byard said. "This is going to be a Mike Tyson punch to the Carolina coast."
More: 'Storm of a lifetime': storm surge, extreme winds and torrents of rain
More: Track Hurricane Florence
The storm, as of 2 p.m. EDT, was about 435 miles southeast of Wilmington, North Carolina, and 470 miles east-southeast of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, moving northwest at 16 mph. Winds had decreased slightly to 125 mph, but the hurricane-force wind field had increased, the hurricane center said in its afternoon update.
The NHC says a buoy about 100 miles northeast of Florence’s eye has clocked hurricane-force wind gusts and sustained winds of 53 mph.
The forecast Tuesday had called for a move north after hitting the coast. The prediction changed Wednesday.
"The NHC track has been adjusted southward ... and additional southward adjustment may be warranted in future advisories," the hurricane center said.
Hurricane Florence path shifts: Storm of a lifetime headed to Carolina coast
The National weather Service in Wilmington said the latest models show Florence reaching a high-pressure ridge over the eastern USA, stalling and then moving toward South Carolina. The office warned that Florence "will likely be the storm of a lifetime for portions of the Carolina coast."
The southern turn brings Georgia into the path of the storm, and Gov. Nathan Deal declared an emergency Wednesday for all 159 counties. But North Carolina remained a primary target, and Gov. Roy Cooper has ordered an unprecedented evacuation of the state's barrier islands.
The storm surge alone will flood tens of thousands of structures, Cooper said Wednesday.
"Every county and every person in North Carolina needs to stay alert and to take this storm seriously," Cooper said.
Not everyone was fleeing. In Wilmington, James Waters said he surfed Wednesday morning and was going to stay at his grandparents’ house just across the water from the islands.
“My grandparents are staying, so I figured I would stay and help them,” Waters said. “We’ve been through some hurricanes before. They say this one is supposed to be really bad.”
Hurricane Florence path shifts: Storm of a lifetime headed to Carolina coast
Outside Wilmington, less than two miles from the coast, the Trinity Grove nursing home has stocked extra food, medicine and water for some 100 residents, who will shelter in place.
The facility was built to withstand 140 mile per hours wind, says John Frye, the executive director.
Kay Torrens, 88, who has lived for 25 years in Trinity Grove with her 87-year-old husband, Leo, says she is heading to Virginia to stay with relatives, leaving the facility for the first time ever — and without Leo.
“He’s in good hands. Why would I not trust it?” Torrens said. “I wouldn’t leave him if it wasn’t safe.”
Weather Channel meteorologist Greg Postel said Florence has an unusual forecast track. "I've never seen anything like this," he said.
Ryan Maue, a meteorologist at weather.us who said Florence is forecast to dump about 10 trillion gallons of water on the Carolinas, called the forecast "bizarre" and said "the forecast after 72 hours is certainly a challenge ... and a nightmare."
Despite Florence’s southern turn, people as far as Norfolk, Virginia, fled to higher ground. Wilma Johnson was on her way out of town Wednesday morning after her neighborhood that abuts the Elizabeth River was ordered evacuated by Gov. Ralph Northam. But she was having second thoughts.
“I’m not really afraid,” she said. “I think I’d be much more comfortable at home.”
The new track could make a tremendous difference to residents of the Washington, D.C., metro area and points north. Alan Reppert, a senior meteorologist for AccuWeather, said areas around Richmond, Virginia, could see 8 inches of rain. Washington, 100 miles to the north, might get only an inch.
Travel disruptions will be many. Nationwide, more than 575 flights have been canceled from Wednesday through Friday, flight-tracking service FlightAware reported.
Amtrak canceled some trains and modified service for others in the region and announced its Northeast Regional service will not run to Virginia destinations south of Washington from Wednesday through Sunday.
President Donald Trump lauded FEMA for its work during last year's devastating hurricane season and said authorities were ready for Florence.
"Hurricane Florence is looking even bigger than anticipated," Trump tweeted. "It will be arriving soon. FEMA, First Responders and Law Enforcement are supplied and ready. Be safe!"
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