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

Hurricane Florence strengthens to Category 4, takes aim at Carolinas

Hurricane Florence strengthens to Category 4, takes aim at Carolinas

Hurricane Florence is intensifying and expected to transform into a major hurricane as it barrels toward the southeastern USA coast, where forecasters expect a life-threatening storm surge, major flooding and damaging winds this week.

- Both North and SC are under states of emergency as Hurricane Florence looks to strike the Carolina coast. At that point the storm was centered about 1,170 miles (1,880 km) east-southeast of Cape Fear, North Carolina, the NHC said. Florence has maximum sustained winds of 105 miles per hour, though that number is likely to increase as the storm strengthens.

The NHC warned on Sunday night: "There is an increasing risk of two life-threatening impacts from Florence: storm surge at the coast and freshwater flooding from a prolonged heavy rainfall event inland".

A tracker map from the center on Monday forecast the hurricane making landfall in the Carolinas Thursday morning, and expected the storm to continue through Saturday morning, when it will have weakened to a tropical depression.

The governors of North Carolina, South Carolina, and Virginia have all declared states of emergency.

In South Carolina alone, more than 1 million residents and tourists are expected to flee from coastal areas, Gov. Henry McMaster said Monday, vowing that state officials "are not going to gamble" with people's lives.

Evacuation shelters will open on Tuesday and be available to individuals based on need, said Kim Stenson, director of the South Carolina Emergency Management Division.

However, that's the least-likely scenario with Florence, Eck said.

"The bottom line is that there is increasing confidence that Florence will be a large and extremely unsafe hurricane, regardless of its exact intensity, " Blake said.

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Forecasters urged residents from SC to the mid-Atlantic to get ready - and not just for a possible direct blow against the coast. SC and Virginia declared states of emergencies to give residents time to make preparations for the severe weather.

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There's still a large cone of uncertainty about the storm's exact path, but the latest models show Florence tracking a little further south and west than previously thought, Wimberley said. Very seriously. That was the message North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper delivered Monday morning.

The hurricane center's description of a Category 4 hurricane begins with "catastrophic damage will occur".

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

"Interests in the southeastern and mid-Atlantic states should monitor the progress of Florence".

As of Monday evening, Florence was 500 miles in diameter, much larger than the typical 300-mile-wide hurricane.

"This is a very risky hurricane", McMaster said, adding that the evacuation order for coastal counties was "mandatory, not voluntary".

The governor said residents should prepare for ocean surge, strong winds, and inland flooding. While Helene is forecast to slide out to sea away from land, Isaac is a very real threat in the Caribbean later this week, the hurricane center said.

Florence now is a category 1 hurricane as of the 5 p.m. advisory.

"From eight o'clock 'til two we were slammed", said Johnson, who sold scores of bags of sand over the weekend, saving just a few to barricade the store's own doors.

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