Published: Wed, September 12, 2018
Science | By Michele Flores

Hurricane Florence: 'Big and vicious' storm closes in on Carolinas

Hurricane Florence: 'Big and vicious' storm closes in on Carolinas

North and SC and Virginia ordered mass evacuations along the coast, but getting out of harm's way could prove hard.

On the heels of the most expensive hurricane season ever, the approaching storm raises the questions: What role is climate change playing - and could technology offset these growing dangers?

There are three storms now swirling in the Atlantic, of which Florence is the most unsafe.

President Donald Trump has declared states of emergency for North and SC and Virginia, and 1.7 million people have been warned to leave.

"The atmosphere overall, before the potential landfall, certainly looks like we are going to have a very risky hurricane on our hands", Weather Channel meteorologist Jim Cantore told the Wilmington (N.C.) StarNews.

Much of this part of the Eastern Seaboard is not very high at all and forecasters expect storm surge between the mouth of the Cape Fear River and Cape Lookout to be as high as 13 feet.

This means catastrophic floods could follow if the hurricane stalls inland.

After the storm surge comes the deluge of rain.

"Life-threatening storm surge is forecast along the South Carolina, North Carolina and Southeast Virginia coasts Thursday and Friday", announced Governor Henry McMaster - (R) South Carolina. Hurricane conditions are expected to reach the Carolinas on Friday, says the National Hurricane Center, but tropical force winds are expected to show up late Wednesday or Thursday morning.

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Liz Browning Fox was planning to ride out the storm on the Outer Banks, defying evacuation orders.

Communities could lose electricity for weeks, Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Brock Long said.

Hurricane Florence as seen from space early Wednesday morning.

The massive Atlantic storm could produce "life-threatening storm surges" and "catastrophic flash flooding", the National Hurricane Center has warned.

The Category 4 weakened slightly to 130 miles per hour in the morning but was expected to re-intensify later Tuesday, according to the National Hurricane Center.

It really is impossible to say where a "bullseye" will occur in terms of rainfall due to the uncertain storm motion, but coastal areas of the Carolinas likely face the greatest threat. It may move a little north into Virginia or a little south into SC. While some said they planned to stay put despite hurricane watches and warnings, many on the East Coast prepared to heed evacuation warnings and move inland. A large swath of Virginia could also see between 10 and 15 inches of rain. If this chimney hits wind shear and gets knocked out of its vertical orientation, the hurricane has a tough time fueling itself, and it's unlikely to intensify.

Trump was widely panned for a lackadaisical response to the impact of Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico past year, which killed almost 3,000 according to the most recent estimates. On Monday, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan declared a state of emergency for the state. "We are totally prepared", Trump said at the White House. Florence is likely to be a copious rain maker owing to how fast (or slow) it moves ashore.

Florence's projected path includes half a dozen nuclear power plants, pits holding coal-ash and other industrial waste, and numerous hog farms that store animal waste in huge lagoons. Duke Energy spokesman Ryan Mosier said operators would begin shutting down nuclear plants at least two hours before hurricane-force winds arrive.

"It does look a bit similar to Harvey in a sense that it goes roaring into shore and then comes to a screeching stop", said MIT meteorology professor and hurricane expert Kerry Emanuel.

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