All interests along the coasts of the Southeast and mid-Atlantic are being put on alert for a potential strike from Category 4 Hurricane Florence during the second half of the week.
At this time, AccuWeather Founder and President Dr. Joel N. Myers estimates the Hurricane Florence financial toll will reach $30 billion, due to the extensive damage and flooding anticipated. Last year, AccuWeather correctly predicted the total economic damage of severe weather events for 2017. These estimates were predicted further ahead and more accurately than any other source, helping people to better understand the urgency of the extreme weather situations so they could take swift action.
AccuWeather meteorologists believe that Florence will reach the Carolina or Virginia coasts and pose a serious threat to lives and property late this week.
There is the potential for Florence to stall or significantly reduce its forward speed as it nears the coast, which could prolong the effects of damaging winds, storm surge flooding and beach erosion. A stall or slow forward speed would also greatly enhance inland flooding of streams and rivers.
“There’s never been a storm like Florence. It was located farther north in the Atlantic than any other storm to ever hit the Carolinas, so what we’re forecasting is unprecedented. Also, most storms coming into the Carolinas tend to move northward, and this storm looks like it’s going to stall over the region and potentially bring tremendous, life-threatening flooding,” AccuWeather Vice President of Forecasting and Graphics Operations Marshall Moss said.
States of emergency have been declared in North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia and Maryland in preparation for Florence’s arrival.
Download the free AccuWeather app to stay up-to-date with Florence’s expected track and impacts to the U.S.
Florence, regained Category 4 strength as of midday Monday.
Florence became the first Category 4 hurricane of the 2018 Atlantic season last week but later weakened due to a zone of strong wind shear and cooler waters.
Very warm water and low wind shear may allow additional strengthening through midweek.
Following an eye wall replacement cycle during Monday night and Tuesday morning, Florence began to grow in size and become better organized Tuesday afternoon. A jump in strength to a Category 5 hurricane is possible Tuesday night or Wednesday.
Another eye wall replacement cycle is possible before the hurricane reaches the coast to end the week.
Seas to become dangerous well ahead of Florence
Large swells will propagate outward hundreds of miles away from the center of the storm this week.
The swells will make for rough seas along and well off the U.S. East Coast, Bermuda, the northern shores of the Caribbean islands and the south- and southeast-facing shores of the Canada Maritimes, according to AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Alex Sosnowski.
“The rough surf and seas can occur hundreds of miles away from the path of the storm,” Sosnowski said.
The frequency and intensity of rip currents will increase.
If caught in a rip current, do not panic or fight the current. Swim parallel to the shore until you are free of the current’s grip. Then swim at an angle, away from the current, toward the shore.
“The surf may be especially hazardous, since most lifeguards are not on duty past Labor Day,” Sosnowski said.
Operators of small craft should heed all advisories that are issued and remain in port if necessary.
Larger vessels, such as cruise or cargo ships, may have to reroute their courses to avoid Florence’s dangerous seas.
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Conditions along the Atlantic coast from the Carolinas to southern Maryland will deteriorate rapidly as seas dramatically build on Thursday and into Friday.
Florence to bring significant impacts to U.S. East Coast
Florence is expected to be as strong as a Category 4 hurricane by the time it makes its closest approach to the United States from Thursday to Friday.
AccuWeather Hurricane Expert Dan Kottlowski said that a Florence landfall along the U.S. East coast is becoming more likely, with the Carolinas at greatest risk.
The exact track, overall size and forward speed of the storm will determine which locations along the coast receive the worst of Florence’s damaging winds, heavy rain and storm surge flooding.
“As we have seen with hurricanes in most recent years, such as Lane in Hawaii earlier this summer and Harvey last year in Texas, feet of rain can fall when these tropical storms stall,” Sosnowski said.
“That scenario has a high probability of occurring in North Carolina and Virginia and possibly portions of neighboring states in the Southeast, Appalachians and mid-Atlantic late this week and this coming weekend,” Sosnowski added.
A slow-moving or stalled storm would also prolong coastal flooding and high wind concerns and may cause significant beach erosion along part of the Southeast and lower mid-Atlantic coasts.
“Storms of this nature have changed the shape of the coastline in the past and that could be the case this time, especially in North Carolina,” Sosnowski said.
Wind gusts topping 100 mph are likely near and just north of where Florence approaches the coast. Long-duration hurricane-force winds of 74 mph or higher could cause tremendous damage and widespread power outages.
“We expect Florence to transition from a small-sized hurricane to a large hurricane by the time it reaches the coast,” Kottlowski said.
If Florence comes ashore as a Category 3 or 4 hurricane, then damaging winds and power outages may extend inland more than 100 miles and northward along the coast by 200 miles or more.
The combination of saturated ground and strong winds is likely to knock down scores of trees.
“Strong high pressure to the north is likely to enhance winds farther north along the coast than what would normally occur,” Sosnowski said.
“As a result, people from southeastern Virginia to southern New Jersey could have damaging winds and significant coastal flooding, even if Florence hovers or moves ashore in North Carolina.”
What are the factors for Florence’s track and forward speed?
Unfortunately, the scenario that kept the worst of Florence’s impacts out to sea is the least likely at this point.
The strength and orientation of an area of high pressure over the western Atlantic will be key to Florence’s movement.
The clockwise flow of air around the high will guide Florence more toward the west-northwest around the middle of the week.
If the high remains strong, Florence will take a slower turn to the northwest and be guided onshore over North or South Carolina.
If the high weakens, Florence will make a quicker turn to the northwest and may skirt the North Carolina and Virginia coastline without making landfall.
People are strongly encouraged to follow all mandatory evacuation orders from local and state officials.