Published: Sun, September 16, 2018
Science | By

'Threat becomes reality': Florence begins days of rain, wind

'Threat becomes reality': Florence begins days of rain, wind

Hurricane Florence's leading edge battered the Carolina coast Thursday, bending trees and shooting frothy sea water over streets on the Outer Banks, as the hulking storm closed in with 105 miles per hour (165 kph) winds for a drenching siege that could last all weekend. The Outer Banks are experiencing wind gusts over 30 miles per hour and rain from the outermost bands has begun to fall in coastal areas of both North and SC. Hurricane-force winds are expected to spread to parts of the coast Friday. When Hurricane Floyd made landfall near Cape Fear in 1999 as a Category 2 storm, bloated carcasses of hundreds of thousands of hogs, chickens and other drowned livestock bobbed in a nose-stinging soup of fecal matter, pesticides, fertilizer and gasoline so toxic that fish flopped helplessly to escape it.

Its surge of ocean water could cover all but a sliver of the Carolina coast under as much as 4m, and days of downpours could dump more than 1m of rain, touching off severe flooding.

To put things in perspective, any storm surge taller than 12 feet is "life-threatening", National Hurricane Center Director Ken Graham said.

Alex Sosnowski, AccuWeather's senior meteorologist, wrote on September 13 that "some communities in the Carolinas may be under water for days and possibly a week or more".

Florence was about 170 miles east-southeast of Wilmington, N.C., at 8 a.m. ET Thursday, the National Hurricane Center said. It's now predicted to make landfall near Wilmington and then head west across SC.

Helene was downgraded from a hurricane to a tropical storm Thursday. A storm surge warning is in effect for South Santee River South Carolina to Duck North Carolina.

People fleeing coastal North and SC clogged highways as Florence bore down for a direct hit in the low-lying region dense with beachfront vacation homes.


Despite the drop in maximum sustained winds, forecasters stress that this hurricane is not to be taken lightly. "We go through a lot of these hurricane scares throughout the years", Wilmington Mayor Bill Saffo said. He also urged those outside of the evacuation zones to be prepared.

"Do not focus on the wind speed category of #Hurricane #Florence!" the National Hurricane Center said Thursday morning.

"A storm surge warning means there is a danger of life-threatening inundation, from rising water moving inland from the coastline".

Duke Energy said Florence could knock out electricity to three-quarters of its 4 million customers in the Carolinas, and outages could last for weeks. Hurricane Florence is forecast to make landfall tomorrow.

Storm surge is basically a wall of seawater that could fall on and swallow parts of the coast.

With flood waters advancing rapidly in many communities, around 50 stranded people had been airlifted out by helicopter in North Carolina, said Petty Officer Michael Himes of the U.S. Coast Guard.

As of Wednesday night, Florence's tropical storm force winds were almost 400 miles wide - or the roughly the equivalent of driving from Washington, D.C, to Charlotte, North Carolina; or from Milwaukee, Wisconsin to St. Louis; or from Los Angeles to San Francisco.

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