Big and dangerous, Category 2 Hurricane Florence is about a day away from plunging into the coast of Carolinas, where conditions on Thursday will quickly worsen. It is the beginning of a sustained wind and water attack that will cause devastating damage and flooding to millions of people in the southeast of the country.
Starting on the coast Thursday, the winds will accelerate, the rains will intensify and the raging, troubled ocean will stream ashore.
Landfall is expected Friday in Southeastern North Carolina, which may bear the brunt of the storm. The rise of the storm, the rise of seawater over normally dry land on the coast, could make a story go by. In addition, a catastrophic rainfall of 20 or maybe even 40 inches will fall.
Floods from both the storm surge and the rain could be "catastrophic," the National Hurricane Center warned.
The same zone is hit almost daily by gusts of wind to hurricane force, while tropical storm conditions can last twice as long. These relentless winds will damage homes and buildings, crashing trees and destroying power.
Gradually, Friday through the weekend, the massive storm – which includes a nearly 400-mile-wide tropical storm zone – will slide inland, devouring much of South Carolina and southern North Carolina. Widespread rainfall could reach 6 to 12 inches and spur flooding. Part of the wind and rain of the storm could even penetrate into eastern Georgia.
It could fall enough rain to break North Carolina's record for a tropical storm – 24 inches – near Wilmington during Hurricane Floyd in 1999said Greg Carbin, head of forecasting operations at the National Forecasting Center of the Weather Service.
Heavy rainfall floods are the second most common cause of death in tropical storms and hurricanes that hit land.
The rain danger must not stop in the Carolinas. Early next week, a weakened but drenched Florence could drop rain on already saturated Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, Washington and Pennsylvania. These areas are prone to flooding and fallen trees after heavy rains this summer.
What you need to know
The latest | Storm hazards | Path projections
"North Carolina, my message is clear," said grim Governor Roy Cooper at a meeting on Wednesday. "Disaster is coming and come in."
The fulcrum in Florence's foresight led Georgia's governor to declare a state of emergency on Wednesday afternoon for all 159 districts that host 10.5 million people.
Federal officials warned that millions of people in Florence's attractions could live without electricity for weeks when high wind speeds from power lines and massive rains flood the facilities. There are 16 nuclear reactors in the region, and nearby crews, where landing is most likely, prepared the station in Brunswick for a shutdown.
The monstrous storm has forced the closure of hundreds of schools across the region.
President Trump has approved Emergency Disaster Declarations for the Carolinas and Virginia Releasing Funds for Relief and Recovery. "We are as ready as ever," he said after a meeting with Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator William "Brock" Long and Homeland Security Secretary Kirstenen Nielsen.
"Florence could be the most dangerous storm in the history of Carolinas," tweeted Long on Tuesday in New York.
As of 11 am Wednesday, the top winds of Florence were 110 mph, and it was northwest at 17 mph, about 280 miles east-southeast of Wilmington.
The Hurricane Center predicts the storm that it will maintain that intensity until landfall. After that, the wind speeds will drop steadily.
Even as the top winds of Florence declined on Wednesday, the wind field of the storm grew, said the Hurricane Center. Hurricane Force winds stretch 80 miles from the center, while Tropical Storm Storm winds extend 195 miles outward. The cloud field of the storm is about the size of four Ohios,
Hurricane warnings apply to the South Santee River of South Carolina for Duck, N.C and Albemarle and Pamlico sounds. These include Wilmington, N. C. Hurricane clocks extend north to the North Carolina-Virginia border and south to the South Santee River, including the Charleston area. A tropical storm warning covers the area north of Duck, North Carolina, to the border between North Carolina and Virginia.
More than 10 million people are under guards and warnings, The Associated Press reported,
Like a bulldozer, the wind and the forward motion of the storm will land an enormous amount of land when it lands. The storm surge or rise in water over normally dry land on the coast can reach up to a height of more than 13 meters when the maximum rise coincides with the tide.
The largest climb should come north of the spot where the eye of the storm lands, projecting the Hurricane Center in southeastern North Carolina.
The rise will lead to "large areas of deep flooding". , , improved by waves hit, "said the weather service, warning of probable" structural damage to buildings. , , with several potentially wash away, "" flooded or washed-out coastal roads "and" major damage to marinas ".
Storm flood warnings were issued by South Santee River, South Carolina to Duck, N.C. The area around Charleston is under a storm surge guard.
The Hurricane Center projects the following elevations over normally dry land when the maximum rise coincides with high tide:
- Cape Fear to Cape Lookout, including the Neuse, Pamlico, Pungo and Bay Rivers: 9 to 13 feet
- North Myrtle Beach to Cape Fear: 6 to 9 feet
- Cape Lookout to Ocracoke Inlet: 6 to 9 feet
- South Santee River to North Myrtle Beach: 4 to 6 feet
- Ocracoke Inlet to Salvo, N.C .: 4 to 6 feet
- Salve to North Carolina / Virginia Border: 2 to 4 feet
- Edisto Beach to the South Santee River: 2 to 4 feet
Models agree that excessive amounts of rain will fall in southeastern North Carolina.
"Floodwaters can have numerous structures, and some can be uninhabitable or washed away," warned the weather service.
Where exactly the zone with the heaviest rainfall sets in, as the storm winds inland, is more uncertain, but the models suggest that he could concentrate in the south of North Carolina and the north of South Carolina by the weekend.
It is likely that the storm will reverse course early next week and return north to West Virginia, Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania, albeit significantly weakened.
The Hurricane Center predicts the following rainfall:
- Coastal North Carolina. 20 to 30 inches, insulated 40 inches.
- South Carolina, Western and North North Carolina: 5 to 10 inches, isolated 20 inches.
- Elsewhere in the Appalachians and Mid-Atlantic states: 3 to 6 inches, isolated 12 inches. Much of this rain would fall early next week instead of over the weekend.
The strongest winds will occur where and when the storm lands in a ring around the calm eye of the storm. If the storm hits land as a Category 2, these winds are detrimental and are sustained at higher gusts of up to 100 mph.
The zone where these intense winds occur will be tight and will only take a few hours, but the effects are likely to be severe, similar to a tornado. The hurricane center describes the types of damage associated with category 2 winches:
Well constructed frame houses could endure damage to the roof and facades as much as possible. Many shallow-rooted trees are kinked or uprooted and block many roads. Downtime, which can take several days to weeks, is expected to result in near total performance loss.
Outside this zone of destructive winds, damaging winds are still likely, even at some distance from the coast, resulting in minor structural damage, fallen trees, and extensive power outages.
A power failure model at the University of Michigan predicts that 3.2 million customers will be out of power due to the storm, especially in the eastern half of North Carolina.
As the storm slows, it moves over the eastern Carolinas, these wind effects are magnified.
The latest path projections
Although it is very likely that the Eastern Carolinas will be hit hardest on Thursday from Thursday to Friday, the direction of the storm will be much less secure at the weekend and next week.
Models agree that the storm should land between the border between North Carolina and South Carolina and the Outer Banks of North Carolina and then pass over South Carolina. But then they diverge gradually. While all simulations show that the storm returns to the north on Sunday or Monday, there is a big wildcard right where these turns take place.
The storm could lead north through the Ohio Valley, the Appalachians, or even closer to the Interstate 95 corridor. The particularities of the track early next week will have an impact on where the heaviest rain north of the Carolinas occurs.
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Joel Achenbach and Ann Gerhart of the Washington Post have contributed to this report.