Don't Be Fooled by Hurricane Florence Being 'Downgraded.' It's Still Very Dangerous

Christopher Davidson
September 14, 2018

Sustained hurricane force winds have been recorded at Cape Lookout, North Carolina, but a wind gust of 99 miles per hour was recently reported at Fort Macon, North Carolina.

The storm will churn very slowly Friday and Saturday, extending the damaging winds and huge amounts of rain that will hit the same areas of North and SC for 24 hours. The Saffir-Simpson scale that meteorologists use to measure hurricanes reflects only the wind speeds involved in the storm, and right now Hurricane Florence's winds are hovering at maximum speeds of about 110 miles per hour (175 km/h). The actual landfall - when the center of the eye reaches land - will be Friday afternoon at the earliest, said Neil Jacobs of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. As the storm moves inland, Georgia, Virginia and Maryland will also be in peril.

But forecasters warned that the widening storm - and its likelihood of lingering around the coast for days - will bring life-threatening storm surge and torrential rains.

"The deepest water will occur along the immediate coast in areas of onshore winds, where the surge will be accompanied by large and destructive waves. Surge-related flooding can vary greatly over short distances", the advisory said.

Florence could do more than $170bn (£130bn) of damage and affect almost 759,000 homes and businesses, says analytics firm CoreLogic.

One such tool helping hurricane-watchers keep track of Florence is the appropriately-named Hurricane Tracker app.

Florence is projecting hurricane-force winds outward up to 80 miles from its center; tropical-storm-force winds are swirling outward up to 195 miles away. Showers and blustery conditions are likely Friday and Saturday.

Florence's center will approach the North and SC coasts late Thursday and Friday. The storm is massive and was a Category 4 hurricane at its worst that will devastate anything it encounters. "But they may not be that much different in terms of wind speed", said Luettich.

Near the beach in Wilmington, a Waffle House restaurant, part of a chain with a reputation for staying open during disasters, had no plans to close, even if power is lost. Again, the category may have been downgraded, but the storm surge could still rise up to 13 feet, which is enough to flood homes up to the first floor ceiling.

Hurricane Florence, with tropical storm-force winds hundreds of miles wide, began pounding the Carolina coastline on Thursday night as officials made last-minute pleas for residents to evacuate.

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The hurricane centre also said the threat of tornadoes was increasing as Florence neared shore and South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster said the heavy rains could trigger landslides in the western part of his state.

Luettich and colleagues at the University of Notre Dame and University of Texas spent 30 years developing ADCRIC, a computer model that gauges storm surge and other impacts of major coastal weather events. "That's the second story of a house", North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper said Thursday morning.

The National Hurricane Center said the storm's strength should continue through Thursday.

Long said the danger was not only along the coast.

Even though the storm's category fell from a 4 to a 2 Wednesday (local time), forecasters stressed the category is only an evaluation of the storm's peak winds in a very narrow core near the center of the storm. Another 400 people were in shelters in Virginia, where forecasts were less dire.

The strongest winds will occur where and when the storm makes landfall in a ring around the calm eye of the storm known as the eyewall. "We're about to be in the thick of it".

Fierce winds and massive waves are expected to lash the coasts of North and SC and Virginia even before Florence makes landfall by early Friday, bringing a storm surge as much as 13 feet (4 meters).

Overcrowded animal shelters in some North Carolina districts were facing a more grim prospect: euthanizing animals that can't be shipped to safety.

"I worry that Florence may be more than people can handle", he said.

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