An immensely powerful Hurricane Florence slowed its approach to the East Coast on Wednesday but was expected 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 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 said. Isolated totals of 40 inches are possible.
The mammoth, Category 4 storm was driving sustained winds of 130 mph Wednesday and was expected to reach the Carolinas overnight Thursday. More than a million people have been ordered to evacuate coastal areas.
“This is not going to be a glancing blow,” FEMA’s Jeff Byard said. “This is going to be a Mike Tyson punch to the Carolina coast.”
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The storm, as of 11 a.m. EDT, was located about 485 miles southeast of Wilmington, North Carolina, and 520 miles east-southeast of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, moving northwest at 15 mph. The forecast previously had called for a move north after hitting the coast.
The Wells Fargo Bank Building on Meeting Street in Charleston boarded in preparation for Hurricane Florence making landfall along the East Coast.
The Wells Fargo Bank Building on Meeting Street in Charleston boarded in preparation for Hurricane Florence making landfall along the East Coast. (Photo: Jack Gruber, USA TODAY)
“The NHC track has been adjusted southward … and additional southward adjustment may be warranted in future advisories,” the hurricane center said Wednesday.
The National Weather Service in Wilmington said the latest models show Florence reaching a “ridge” building over the eastern U.S., stalling and then moving into 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 foul weather, and Governor Nathan Deal issued an emergency declaration 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.”
Weather Channel meteorologist Greg Postel said Florence has an unusual forecast track, which shows a spin to the south along the South Carolina coast. “I’ve never seen anything like this,” he said.
Ryan Maue, a weather.us meteorologist 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, evacuated to higher ground. Wilma Johnson was on her way out of town Wednesday morning after her neighborhood that abuts the Elizabeth River and was ordered to evacuate 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 current 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 only see an inch.
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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 officials 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!”