Hurricane Florence: 'Life-Threatening' Storm Surge Watch Issued For Carolinas

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WFAE’s Mark Rumsey spoke on Tuesday afternoon with WCNC-TV Chief Meteorologist Brad Panovich about the projected path of Hurricane Florence, and how the storm might impact the Charlotte region.

Updated: 6:30 a.m.

The path of Hurricane Florence now appears to be south of Charlotte. WCNC-TV meteorologist Brad Panovich says that likely means more rain and increased threats of tornados. Meanwhile, Charlotte officials and hotels are busy preparing for the storm and the people who will be coming to Charlotte from the coast.

Updated: 5:30 p.m.

Hurricane Florence has strengthened to 140 miles per hour winds, according to the National Hurricane Center’s latest advisory.

In its latest forecast, the center maintains that a life-threatening storm surge is now highly likely along the coasts of North and South Carolina. The center also warns of “life-threatening, catastrophic” flash flooding in the Carolinas and Mid-Atlantic states from late this week through next week. The center estimates 15 to 25 inches of rain

Hurricane-force winds have also expanded outward and now extend up to 60 miles from the center of Florence.

Florence’s Tropical-storm-force winds have also expanded and now extend outward up to 170 miles from the center.

At a Tuesday afternoon press conference, officials with Atrium Health said the hospital system was effectively on standby ahead of the impending storm.

Five patients had been airlifted from eastern parts of the state to the Charlotte area, and staff members were clearing out unused rooms in Charlotte-area facilities for the possibility that doctors and nurses are forced to spend the night.

Doctors have also been warning some patients of the possibility that their appointments over the weekend or early next week could be canceled, depending on the severity of the storm and the availability of medical staff.

The hospital system has also been holding daily briefings with emergency response teams, and has been in open communication with state and federal leaders as the storm approaches.

UNC Charlotte announced that it will be canceling classes starting 5 p.m. Wednesday. All university activities will be canceled for the rest of the week. 

Updated: 1:05 p.m.

North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper urged the state’s residents to prepare for Hurricane Florence, which is expected to make landfall Thursday.

“[We need to] make sure people understand this is not a storm that you try to ride out,” Cooper said. “It’s the type of storm that’s historic — maybe once in a lifetime.”

“This one’s different, and we need to make sure people know that.”

Cooper added that those who don’t heed evacuation warnings are risking lives.

“They’re risking their lives if they stay. They’re also risking the lives of first responders.”

Bertie, Brunswick, Currituck, Dare, Hyde, New Hanover and Onslow counties all have evacuation orders.

Updated: 11:45 a.m.

The National Hurricane Center is emphasizing that Hurricane Florence will slowly strengthen over the course of the next few days. This morning, Florence decreased from 140 miles per hour to 130 miles per hour maximum sustained winds but is expected to begin restrengthening later today.

Hurricane-force winds extend up to 40 miles from the center and tropical-storm-force winds extend outward up to 150 miles. 

In a press briefing today, South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster has lifted his mandatory evacuation order for three counties: Beaufort, Colleton, and Jasper. His new order will not apply to Edisto Beach.

“We are in a very deadly and important game of chess with Hurricane Florence and what we are doing—team South Carolina is doing, is staying one step ahead,” McMaster said.

“This is a very dangerous hurricane and we don’t want to gamble with a single life of a single South Carolinian,” McMaster added.

Updated: 8 a.m.

Hurricane Florence has weakened slightly, according to the National Hurricane Center.

The Category 4 Hurricane, which is slowly making its way to the Atlantic coast, has decreased to 130 miles per hour maximum sustained winds, according to the center’s latest public advisory.

The center expects the hurricane to get stronger again in the next day or so and says it will be an “extremely dangerous major hurricane” through Thursday night. 

Updated: 6:20 a.m.

A hurricane watch and a “life-threatening” storm surge watch have been issued for the Carolinas and Virginia along the Atlantic coast as Hurricane Florence makes its way to landfall.

The National Hurricane Center says Florence will likely bring on the “possibility of life-threatening inundation, from rising water moving inland from the coastline” in the next two days.

The center estimates flood waters on the coast to range from 2 to 8 feet. From Cape Lookout to Ocracoke Inlet on North Carolina’s coast, that estimation is as high as 5 to 8 feet.

Over the course of the week, rainfall will total 15 to 20 inches as Florence lingers over inland.

Today, more than a million people are expected to evacuate with a mandatory order to vacate in place for South Carolina’s coastal counties.

Residents on North Carolina’s Outer Banks are also being asked to evacuate.

Wilmington Mayor Bill Saffo, who joined CNN earlier today, warned residents to immediately make preparations ahead of Florence.

“Once this storm is upon us, we won’t be able to send emergency personnel to save you,” Saffo said. “Prepare now.”

Florence is a Category 4 Hurricane with maximum sustained winds of 140 miles per hour. It is expected to reach the Carolinas by Thursday. 

Updated: 5:45 p.m.

National Hurricane Center director Ken Graham says when Florence comes ashore and slows down, more problems are expected inland with heavy rainfall and high winds.

“That means saturated soil, high winds, trees, power lines, loss of power is going to be a big issue when this thing makes landfall and sits there basically for a few days,” Graham said.

The center is warning of heavy, prolonged rainfall over the next seven days.

Meanwhile, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools district has rescheduled all of its varsity football games to avoid Florence.

CMS says home games originally scheduled for Friday will be played on Wednesday, Sept. 12.

In South Carolina, Interstates 26 and 526, between Charleston and Columbia, will be closed going in the direction of the coast Tuesday, according to the South Carolina Department of Public Safety and the South Carolina Department of Transportation. The departments will implement a full four-lane reversal. There will also be reversals in place on Highway 501 near the coast.

Duke Energy expects “widespread damage” from Florence and says post-storm repairs could take weeks — based on past storms. The company says the storm’s size and strength suggest it could cause more damage than Matthew in 2016.   

The company says it’s moving power crews to the Carolinas from Indiana, Ohio, Kentucky and Florida so they’ll be ready to begin restoring power as soon as possible.

Updated: 5 p.m.

Hurricane Florence is getting stronger and larger, according to the National Hurricane Center.

The Category 4 hurricane now has maximum sustained winds of 140 miles per hour and is moving at 13 miles per hour toward the coasts of North and South Carolina. 

According to the center, the forecast track has the center of Florence moving over the Atlantic Ocean between Bermuda and the Bahamas Tuesday and Wednesday before approaching the Carolinas on Thursday.

Updated: 3 p.m.

South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster has ordered the evacuation of the state’s coastal counties in preparation for Hurricane Florence.

The order will take effect at noon on Tuesday. The South Carolina Emergency Management Division says it’s planning for a large-scale evacuation.

“This may be inconvenient. This is a very dangerous hurricane. But we are not going to gamble with the lives of the people of South Carolina, not a one,” McMaster said.

McMaster says the evacuation is expected to affect about 1 million people.  Inbound lanes also will be reversed on four main routes to the coast, to allow people to leave, says McMaster.

Updated: 2 p.m.

The Charlotte Fire Department and emergency preparedness officials are urging residents to prepare now for the possibility of trouble from Hurricane Florence. CFD spokesman Rob Cannon and Hannah Panicco of CFD Emergency Preparedness talked to reporters this afternoon and urged everyone to stock up on supplies ahead of possible power outages and to check neighborhood storm drains to make sure they’re clear for possible heavy rain.

Updated: 12:15 p.m. 

Florence has continued to rapidly strengthen and is now a Category 4 Hurricane with maximum sustained winds near 130 miles per hour, according to the National Hurricane Center.

In a press conference 11 a.m. Monday, North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper said Florence will be a threat statewide, not just at the coast. He’s urging residents to prepare for the severe weather.

“We here in North Carolina are bracing for a hard hit,” Cooper added. “Let me be clear: North Carolina is taking Hurricane Florence seriously and you should too.”

Cooper and South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster have both declared states of emergency, and both asked federal officials for disaster declarations, which would free up new resources for responding to the storm. 

Cooper said 200 state National Guard troops have been activated, and thousands more are standing by for the call. Emergency preparedness officials have begun moving equipment into position around the state — a task he said is made more difficult by the knowledge that the storm could have effects statewide. 

Coastal evacuations have already been ordered in some coastal areas of North Carolina. Cooper said officials are consulting updated flooding models to prepare for possible inland evacuations along the Neuse, Lumber and Tar Rivers in the eastern part of the state. 

Mandatory evacuations have been ordered on Hatteras Island and the southern Outer Banks. Officials have ordered evacuations beginning Tuesday morning for residents and visitors of Dare County, including such popular tourist spots as Kitty Hawk and Nags Head. 

More briefings by public officials are planned Monday afternoon.  Charlotte officials will speak about hurricane preparation at 2 p.m.  South Carolina Gov. McMaster is also scheduled to give a briefing at 2:30 p.m.

On Sunday, McMaster urged South Carolina residents to prepare individually. He noted that with winds projected to reach more than 140 miles an hour, the storm would be more powerful than Hurricane Hugo in 1989, which left a path of devastation from South Carolina’s coast northwest to Charlotte. 

Updated: 11:30 a.m.

Florence has strengthened to a Category 3 hurricane with maximum sustained winds of 115 miles per hour, according to the National Weather Service.

In a press conference, North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper is calling the hurricane a major statewide threat.

“The forecast places North Carolina in the bullseye of Hurricane Florence, and the storm is rapidly getting strong,” Cooper said. “When weather forecasters tell us it’s life-threatening, we know that it is serious.”

Cooper said North Carolina faces three threats from Florence: an ocean surge along the coast, strong winds higher than other hurricanes recently experienced and inland flooding from heavy rains.

“We here in North Carolina are bracing for a hard hit,” Cooper added. “Let me be clear: North Carolina is taking Hurricane Florence seriously and you should too.”

Updated: 8 a.m. 

Florence has intensified to a Category 2 hurricane, according to the National Weather Service, and is expected to reach major hurricane status later today.

In the western Carolinas and Georgia, the National Weather Service says rain and wind from the system will impact the area as early as Thursday and continue through the weekend. The hurricane is likely to bring dangerous surf and rip currents along the east coast. 

Although the path of the Hurricane remains unclear, the center is warning people to “closely monitor the progress of Florence, ensure they have their hurricane plan in place and follow any advice given by local officials.”

The governors of both North and South Carolina have declared states of emergency.

North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper declared a state of emergency Friday and waived transportation rules to help farmers harvest and transfer more crops quickly ahead of the storm.

“While it’s still too early to know the storm’s path, we know we have to be prepared,” Gov. Cooper said. “During harvest, time is of the essence. Action today can avoid losses due to Florence.”

South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster also declared a state of emergency Saturday and temporarily suspended regulations for vehicles transporting supplies and utilities – like gas, electricity and medical supplies, among others.  

“With this order government agencies will begin to mobilize in anticipation of a hurricane,” McMaster said. “Now is the time for your family also to prepare and stay tuned for more updates.”

The National Hurricane Center also warned that Florence could cause life-threatening surf and rip currents along the East Coast, from Florida to North Carolina.