Coastal region now in Florence's cone of uncertainty

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The tropical storm is expected to strengthen into a hurricane late Saturday or early Sunday.

WILMINGTON — At 11 a.m. Saturday, Southeastern North Carolina officially entered the cone of uncertainty for Tropical Storm Florence, which is on a track headed for the East Coast.

By 5 p.m., the track for the tropical storm, which is expected to strengthen into a hurricane Saturday night or Sunday, had shifted slightly north, bringing its potential trajectory closer to the region.

With the 5 p.m. update from the National Hurricane Center, Tropical Storm Florence was located well out in the Atlantic Ocean and clocking 70 mph sustained winds. Moving at 5 mph, the projected track has the storm arriving at the East Coast sometime Thursday as a major hurricane, which is classified as a category three or higher.

However, Dave Loewenthal, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service’s Wilmington office, cautioned that track is still very much uncertain.

“There was slight movement to the north, but this track is still fluid and it will probably be a day or two until we have honed in on where it will make landfall,” he said. “But this is a serious storm and it does warrant our attention.”

The intense heat the region is sweating through this weekend only offers more favorable conditions for a strong hurricane. On Saturday, Loewenthal said the waters off the area’s coast measured in the mid-to-upper 80 degrees, which would allow the storm to maintain its strength.

“That is pretty warm for this time of year and it will help keep the hurricane’s intensity up as it nears the coast,” he said.

Regardless of where it makes landfall, Loewenthal said the area should prepare to see impacts, including rough surf and dangerous rip currents, as early as Sunday.

The NWS is already expecting to issue strong rip current advisories for all area beaches Sunday, and Loewenthal said that is expected to continue through the week.

With the region now in Florence’s tentative projected path, weather officials are advising area residents to start making preparations.

“You definitely want to make sure prescriptions are up to date, know the evacuation routes, and just be vigilant and keep checking on where this thing will go,” Loewenthal said.

Reporter Hunter Ingram can be reached at 910-343-2327 or