JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Hurricane Florence slammed the coast of North Carolina Friday as it massive eyewall made landfall just after 6 a.m. with 87 mph maximum winds.
A NOAA observing site at Cape Lookout in North Carolina reported a gust of 79 mph while a private weather station in Topsail Beach reported a gust of 70 mph.
The slow moving storm is crawling west at 6 mph, pushing a monster onslaught of rainfall along the coastline of the Carolinas.
This could be a cause for flooding concerns as water levels remain elevated in Pamlico Sound and Emerald Isle. Water levels are expected to rise significantly as the tide comes in. A gauge at Cedar Island, North Carolina, recently recorded a water height of about 4 feet above normal levels.
The official track has Florence moving west, then southwest crossing South Carolina as it weakens into a tropical depression over the weekend.
Hurricane warnings are in effect from South Santee River, South Carolina, to Duck, North Carolina. A storm surge warning is out for the same stretch of coastline. A Tropical Storm Warning was issued from the North Carolina/Virginia border to Cape Charles Light, Virginia, and the Chesapeake Bay south of New Point Comfort.
In Northeast Florida and Southeast Georgia, the storm has generated a risk of rip currents. The risk of life-threatening rip currents will increase as Florence gets closer and builds rough surf and the increasing potential for beach erosion.
Residents along the coast of North and South Carolina prepare as Hurricane Florence moves closer to landfall.
Hurricane Florence put a corridor of more than 10 million people in the crosshairs as the monster storm closed in on the Carolinas, uncertainty over its projected path spreading worry across a widening swath of the Southeast.
Faced with new forecasts that showed a more southerly threat, Georgia’s governor joined his counterparts in Virginia and North and South Carolina in declaring a state of emergency, and some residents who had thought they were safely out of range boarded up their homes.
The National Hurricane Center’s best guess was that Florence would blow ashore as early as Friday afternoon around the North Carolina-South Carolina line, then push its rainy way westward with a potential for catastrophic inland flooding.
“Do you want to get hit with a train or do you want to get hit with a cement truck?” said Jeff Byard, an administrator with the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Hurricane Florence by the numbers
The National Weather Service said 5.25 million people live in areas under hurricane warnings or watches, and 4.9 million live in places covered by tropical storm warnings or watches.
At the White House, President Donald Trump both touted the government’s readiness and urged people to get out of the way of Florence.
“Don’t play games with it. It’s a big one,” he said.
On Tuesday, more than 1.7 million people in the Carolinas and Virginia were warned to clear out. Airlines had canceled nearly 1,000 flights and counting. Home Depot and Lowe’s activated emergency response centers to get generators, trash bags and bottled water to stores before and after the storm. The two hardware chains said they sent in a total of around 1,100 trucks.
Duke Energy, the nation’s No. 2 power company, said Florence could knock out electricity to three-quarters of its 4 million customers in the Carolinas, and outages could last for weeks. Workers are being brought in from the Midwest and Florida to help in the storm’s aftermath, it said.
Boarding up his home in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, Chris Pennington watched the forecasts and tried to decide when to leave.
“In 12 or 18 hours, they may be saying different things all over again,” he said.
Computer models of exactly what the storm might do varied, adding to the uncertainty. In contrast to the hurricane center’s official projection, a highly regarded European model had the storm turning southward off the North Carolina coast and coming ashore near the Georgia-South Carolina line.
Reacting to the possibility of a more southerly track, Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal declared an emergency but did not immediately order any evacuations.
“I ask all Georgians to join me in praying for the safety of our people and all those in the path of Hurricane Florence,” Deal said.
The shift in the projected track spread concern to areas that once thought they were relatively safe. In South Carolina, close to the Georgia line, Beaufort County emergency chief Neil Baxley told residents they need to prepare again for the worst just in case.
“We’ve had our lessons. Now it might be time for the exam,” he said.
In Virginia, where about 245,000 residents were ordered to evacuate low-lying areas, officials urged people to remain away from home despite forecast changes showing Florence’s path largely missing the state.
Their entire neighborhood evacuated in Wilmington, North Carolina, David and Janelle Garrigus planned to ride out Florence at their daughter’s one-bedroom apartment in Charlotte. Unsure of what they might find when they return home, the couple went shopping for a recreational vehicle.
“We’re just trying to plan for the future here, not having a house for an extended period of time,” David Garrigus said.
Melody Rawson evacuated her first-floor apartment in Myrtle Beach and arrived at Atlanta Motor Speedway in Hampton, Georgia, to camp for free with three other adults, her disabled son, two dogs and a pet bird.
“We hope to have something left when we get home,” she said.
Forecasters worried the storm’s damage will be all the worse if it lingers on the coast. The trend is “exceptionally bad news,” said University of Miami hurricane researcher Brian McNoldy, since it “smears a landfall out over hundreds of miles of coastline, most notably the storm surge.”
The National Hurricane Center emphasizes four main points:
- A life-threatening storm surge is now highly likely along portions of the coastlines of South Carolina and North Carolina, and a Storm Surge Warning is in effect for a portion of this area. All interests from South Carolina into the mid-Atlantic region should complete preparations and follow any advice given by local officials.
- Life-threatening, catastrophic flash flooding and significant river flooding is likely over portions of the Carolinas and Mid-Atlantic states from late this week into early next week, as Florence is expected to slow down as it approaches the coast and moves inland.
- Damaging hurricane-force winds are likely along portions of the coasts of South Carolina and North Carolina, and a Hurricane Warning is in effect. Strong winds could also spread inland into portions of the Carolinas.
- Large swells affecting Bermuda and portions of the U.S. East Coast will continue this week, resulting in life-threatening surf and rip currents.