Residents along the Carolina Coast today were preparing for Hurricane Florence as the massive Category 2 storm continues on its path northwest at 18 mph.
Officials say the storm will pack a severe punch and bring a region with 10 million people a ‘deadly’ storm surge, historic flooding and catastrophic winds.
The hurricane center said Florence will approach the coast tomorrow and linger for a while before rolling ashore. Authorities warn that Florence has enormous wind field that has been growing larger.
The storm surge is “one of the deadliest hazards of hurricanes,” as well as the associated inland rainfall, David Novak, director of NOAA’s Weather Prediction Center, said. He said one in four deaths in these types of storms are caused by the extreme rainfall.
Most of the deaths are associated with vehicles, Novak said, warning residents that see flooded roadways to “please, turn around, don’t drown,” and don’t attempt to cross roadways. About 5.25 million people live in areas under hurricane warnings or watches, and 4.9 million live in places covered by tropical storm warnings or watches, the National Weather Service said.
Florence was about 235 miles east southeast of Wilmington, N.C., and about 280 miles east southeast of Myrtle Beach, S.C., moving northwest at 17 mph, as of 5 a.m. eastern today.
“If you are in these areas, eastern North Carolina, eastern South Carolina, and you’ve been told to evacuate,” Novak said, “please do not think you can ride this one out. That would be a deadly decision.”
Florence is expected to produce heavy and excessive rainfall, the NHC said, with 20 to 30 inches, isolated 40 inches, in coastal North Carolina into far northeastern South Carolina. This rainfall would produce catastrophic flash flooding and prolonged significant riverflooding, the hurricane center said.
The rest of South and North Carolina into southwest Virginia is expected to produce 6 to 12 inches of rainfall, isolated 24 inches.
It’s unclear exactly how many people fled, but more than 1.7 million people in the Carolinas and Virginia were warned to clear out.
In Virginia, where about 245,000 residents were ordered to evacuate low-lying areas, officials urged people to remain away from home despite forecast changes showing Florence’s path largely missing the state.
Computer models of exactly what the storm might do varied, adding to the uncertainty and storm stress. It’s undertain where exactly Florence will make landfall, after a shift in its track put more of the Southeast in danger.
Georgia Governor Nathan Deal, reacting to that possibility of a more southerly track, declared an emergency but did not immediately order any evacuations.
South Carolina’s beach towns are more in the bull’s-eye because of the shifting forecast.
Forecasters worried the storm’s damage will be all the worse if it lingers on the coast. The trend is “exceptionally bad news,” said University of Miami hurricane researcher Brian McNoldy, since it “smears a landfall out over hundreds of miles of coastline, most notably the storm surge.”
Five percent of gas stations in North Carolina were out of gas (one in 10 gas stations in Wilmington and Raleigh-Durham), while 2.1 percent in South Carolina and 1 percent in Virginia were out.
North Carolina has roughly 2,100 industrial-scale pork farms containing more than 9 million hogs.
Florence’s heavy rains could cause an environmental disaster if waste from hog manure pits, coal ash dumps and other industrial sites wash into homes or threaten drinking water supplies.
Airlines had also canceled nearly 1,000 flights and counting.
And is if Florence wasn’t enough of a threat, the National Hurricane Center is closely monitoring a system in the Gulf of Mexico that could be named in the next day or so.