Paul Douglas: Hurricane Florence poised to be one of the strongest hurricanes in decades

what may wind up being one the most destructive hurricanes on record

Paul Douglas
September 12, 2018 - 10:00 am
Hurricane Florence

NOAA and AerisWeather

Hurricane Florence is poised to push into the Carolinas late Thursday, and a confluence of events could make this one of the more damaging and destructive hurricanes to impact the USA in recent decades. Nearly 1.5 million people are under mandatory evacuation orders as officials try to move people away from the coast and vulnerable barrier islands as quickly and efficiently as possible. The main risks:

1) Wind damage and power outages. Florence is forecast to be a Category 3-4 storm as it approaches the North Carolina coastline. Widespread power outages and significant structural damage is likely late tomorrow into Friday.

2). Storm surge damage. Florence will push a dome of water ashore, with tides running as much as 10 feet above average near Wilmington, North Carolina and Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. This sudden rise in water in the northeast quadrant of the storm, out ahead of the "eye", is extremely dangerous, the source of many hurricane-related injuries and fatalities.

3). Flooding from inland rain. Light steering winds aloft mean that Florence will move very slowly, meandering and even stalling offshore before pushing inland, where the tropical remains of the storm will linger for days. The result may be some 10-25" rainfall amounts with extensive river and urban flooding hundreds of miles inland, days after landfall.

Hurricane Florence
NOAA and AerisWeather

Hurricane Florence is 530 miles southeast of the aptly named Cape Fear, North Carolina as of 8 am Wednesday, moving west-northwest at 17mph. It has sustained winds of 130 mph, and further strengthening is likely. In fact NOAA's National Hurricane Center strengthens winds to 145 mph before weakening slightly as it approaches the Carolina coastline late tomorrow. NHC has the latest updates on Hurricane Florence here.

Florence Power Outage Prediction
Guikema Research Group

Projected Power Outages. Guikema Research Group predicts that 90-100% of homes and businesses from near Myrtle Beach to Wilmington will lose power at the height of the storm Thursday night into Friday. Click here for the latest projections.

ECMWF Track Forecast

Will Florence Stall? Latest models suggest that the hurricane may slow, even stall as it approaches North Carolina late tomorrow, prolonging destructive winds and storm surge flooding for coastal communites. The ECMWF (European) model shows the storm tracking southwest before finally coming ashore near Macon, Georgia - suggesting extensive flooding from the Carolinas into Georgia and Tennessee.

NOAA GFS Forecast Track

NOAA GFS Model Track. NOAA's GFS model is also picking up on the trend to stall the storm and push it west or even southwest before coming ashore. The greatest risk for coastal flooding appears to be from near Charleston and Myrtle Beach, South Carolina to Wilmington, North Carolina.

Timing Hurricane Florence

Timing Impacts. NOAA NHC predicts that tropical storm-force winds (39 mph+ sustained) will impact the Carolina coast beginning Thursday morning, but damaging winds may extend as far inland as Atlanta, Chattanooga and even Nashville over the weekend.

Florence Watches and Warnings
NOAA and Praedictix

Storm Surge Warnings
NOAA and Praedictix

Latest Watches and Warnings. Storm Surge Warnings have been issued by The National Weather Service from near Charleston, South Carolina to the Outer Banks of North Carolina. Hurricane Warnings are also in effect - meaning the storm's arrival is imminent. I expect Flash Flood Watches and Flash Flood Warnings to be extended into much of the Mid Atlantic and Southeast USA in the coming days as the remains of Florence finally move inland. The risk of extensive inland flooding will extend into early next week - hundreds of miles away from Florence's landfall.

Stating the obvious, Hurricane Florence is a very dangerous storm, and tens of millions of Americans will be impacted by what may wind up being one the most destructive hurricanes on record. If (and it's still a big if) it maintains Category 4 strength, it will be the strongest hurricane to strike north of Florida on record. I'll have updates on the "Jordana and Paul" show from 3-6 pm. It's been 22 years since a major hurricane struck north of Florida - that was "Fran" back in 1996.

If you have friends and family living in the Southeast or Carolinas encourage them to take the storm seriously and rush evacuation plans to completion.


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