Published: Tue, September 11, 2018
Money | By Ralph Mccoy

"‘Life-threatening’ Florence spawns first hurricane watches, could bring 30" of rain


Florence is now a Category 4 storm, packing 130 mile-per-hour winds, according to an 11 a.m. update from the U.S. Hurricane Center, and it may soon re-strengthen to near Category 5 levels.

The storm was located about 950 miles (1,530 km) east-southeast of Cape Fear, North Carolina, at 5 a.m. ET (0900 GMT), according to the NHC, which warned it would be "an extremely unsafe major hurricane" through Thursday night. So it may shift over the coming days, but if predictions hold, Florence is set to be the first Category 4 hurricane to make landfall in North Carolina since Hurricane Hugo tore through the state in 1989.

Hurricane-force winds could buffet the Carolinas by Wednesday night with landfall likely in SC and North Carolina on Thursday, followed by heavy rains that could cause flooding in much of the U.S. Southeast, the NHC said.

In North Carolina, evacuations were already underway: Dare County officials issued a mandatory evacuation on Monday for Hatteras Island in the Outer Banks, and ordered more evacuations for other areas of the county beginning Tuesday morning.

On Monday, McMaster ordered residents of eight coastal counties to evacuate.

Any storm surge taller than 12 feet is "life-threatening", National Hurricane Center Director Ken Graham said.

"Life-threatening flash floods" are now being predicted as the storm brings "very heavy, prolonged rainfall" across a large portion of the Carolinas and mid-Atlantic, said a tweet from the National Hurricane Center.

"Florence is expected to produce total rainfall accumulations of 15 to 20 inches with isolated maxima to 30 inches near Florence's track over portions of North Carolina, Virginia, and northern SC through Saturday".

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Across the Southeast, people were urged to put together emergency supply kits, prepare their homes and research evacuation routes. North Carolina is the nation's third-largest pork producer, according to data compiled by the National Pork Board.

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Florence may make landfall anywhere from New England to the Carolinas as soon as Thursday as a Category 3 or higher hurricane. The other storms — Tropical Storm Isaac and Tropical Storm Helene — are both expected to become hurricanes Sunday or Monday.

"This will be a storm that creates and causes massive damage to our country", he said, adding that significant inland flooding is expected in states including Maryland and Pennsylvania.

The majority of flooding from the storm surge is caused by a phenomenon known as the Coriolis effect.

Gas prices in SC have climbed by about 8 cents to $2.585 a gallon from a week earlier, according to motorists' advocacy group AAA. North Carolina and Virginia have taken similar steps. Governors in North and SC have declared states of emergency, and President Donald Trump has authorized federal funding and resources to assist with preparation for the storm. Some 27 percent of the deaths have come from rain-driven flooding, sometimes hundreds of miles inland.

Predicting hurricane tracks is a hard science, and the NHC said there are still uncertainties about the storm's track.

It added that the hurricane should approach the United States coast by Thursday.

The state DOT said they are seeing three times as much traffic on I-26 as normal due to the evacuation, said transportation secretary Christy Hall.

Florence is moving west-northwest at around 15 miles per hour, officials said.

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