Hurricane Florence, which initially was expected to be a late-week and weekend visitor in Charlotte, now is expected to dampen the early part of next week. And it’s potentially bringing more rain and a greater risk of flooding.
The National Hurricane Center now expects the Charlotte area to get 6 to 12 inches of precipitation from the storm in the coming days. Isolated areas in the higher elevations of both Carolinas could get as much as 15 inches before the storm exits. That’s a decrease from the 2 feet forecasters had earlier said was possible.
At 3 p.m., the National Weather Service put much of Western North Carolina and Upstate South Carolina under a flash-flood watch, to run from Saturday morning to Tuesday morning.
“Life-threatening flash flooding may develop as heavy rain bands occur this weekend into early next week, especially where the rain falls on soils left saturated by earlier rainfall,” the weather service said in a 3:09 p.m statement Thursday. “A few landslides can be expected in the mountains and foothills. Streams and creeks may rise quickly during heavy rain and flood nearby low-lying areas. Larger rivers eventually may rise to flood stage as well.”
Once it arrives, the bad weather apparently will stay awhile. There’s a 70 percent change of showers and thunderstorms on Monday; 50 percent on Tuesday.
Duke Energy estimates that between 1 million and 3 million customers could lose power for as long as several weeks. If the outages reach 3 million, it would be a record high for the Carolinas, Duke spokeswoman Meghan Miles said midday Thursday.
The massive storm’s winds weakened slightly Thursday. At 5 p.m., the top-end wind speeds of the Category 2 storm had fallen to 100 mph. But Florence had engulfed a larger area. Hurricane-force winds extend 80 miles from its center, the National Hurricane Center said Thursday.
By midafternoon Thursday, the gusts at the coast continued to intensify, the hurricane center reported. Cape Lookout reported sustained winds of 53 mph. A little later in the day, Cape Lookout had a gust reach 85 mph, the hurricane center said in a 4 p.m. statement. Water levels were already rising.
Florence is expected to make landfall between Wilmington and Myrtle Beach tonight and early Friday, with little decrease in intensity expected before then.
The 4 p.m. update by the National Hurricane Center says the storm is moving toward the northwest at 10 mph and is expected to slow throughout the day before turning to the west-northwest tonight and Friday. Once ashore, Florence is expected to take a west-southwestwardly line Friday night and Saturday.
Here’s what is expected to happen in Charlotte as the hurricane slowly steams inland.
Thursday: Charlotte will see rising winds, with gusts up to 22 mph, the National Weather Service says.
The Hurricane Center expects the best chances of the city getting tropical storm-force winds, 39 mph and higher, to be from midnight Thursday through Sunday. There’s about a 60 percent chance the city will see winds of that force by Sunday.
Friday: Tropical storm conditions — meaning wind and rain — are possible, with wind gusts over more than 30 mph through Friday night. There’s also a percent chance of showers Friday night.
Saturday: Storm conditions again possible, with the chance of showers rising to 60 percent and increasing to 80 percent Saturday night. Up to 2 inches of rain is expected Saturday, with additional amounts also likely for Saturday night.
Sunday: Showers become likely, with a 90 percent chance of rain through Sunday night. It will be windy, and there will be a greater chance of severe thunderstorms and possible tornadoes throughout the day.
Monday: Showers and thunderstorms are likely, with another 70 percent chance of rain, falling to 60 percent Monday night.
Tuesday: A 40 percent chance of showers and thunderstorms.
Flash-flood watch: Saturday morning through Tuesday morning.
Michael Gordon: 704-358-5095; @MikeGordonOBS