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The powerful storm is getting closer to Wilmington and Southeastern NC. Here’s what you need to know.
>>READ MORE: Click here for complete coverage of Hurricane Florence.
As Hurricane Florence draws closer, the region will begin seeing impacts from higher surf to increased winds.
As of 5 p.m. Wednesday, the storm was a Category 3, with maximum sustained winds of 120 mph and gusts ranging higher. Florence could strengthen more through Wednesday and is expected to remain dangerous through Friday.
A hurricane warning was issued Tuesday afternoon for the entire North Carolina coast, including Brunswick, New Hanover and Pender counties.
Here’s what to expect in the coming days, according to warnings issued Wednesday afternoon:
Rainfall and flooding
Be prepared for catastrophic, life-threatening flooding from Florence. The storm is now forecasted to drop more than two feet of rain across the entire three-county region.
“Since the track is slower and the storm will reside over the area longer (than) predicted, rainfall totals have become extreme,” the NWS stated in a Tuesday briefing document.
A flash flood watch is in effect.
The NWS is urging the public to follow flood watches and warnings, stating, “Failure to take action will likely result in serious injury or loss of life.”
Along with the heavy rain come threats including deep water “overwhelmingly” overflowing the banks of rivers and streams. Additionally, according to the NWS, creeks and ditches will develop strong currents as floodwater rushes through them.
The NWS also stated that “numerous structures” could be flooded, with some becoming inhabitable or being washed away entirely.
Transportation will also be impacted, as roads will “likely” be scoured or fail in many places with the possibility of sinkholes rising. Many low-lying bridges and roads will be closed, with many weakened or washed away.
“Driving conditions will be very dangerous,” the NWS warned.
Drinking water and sewer services could also suffer, with floodwaters causing interruptions in service.
Surf and surge
The National Weather Service’s (NWS) Wilmington Office issued a high rip current risk for all area beaches beginning Tuesday morning.
“There is a high risk of rip currents. Life-threatening rip currents are likely in the surf zone,” the statement said.
“Extreme life-threatening storm surge” is increasingly likely throughout the region.
New Hanover beaches are facing a surge from 8-12 feet, according to the NWS, while Coastal Brunswick County could see 7 to 10 feet. In Surf City, the surge could be 7 to 11 feet above ground.
For comparison, the record storm surge in Wrightsville Beach is 11.6 feet above mean sea level, and Carolina Beach’s is 13.5 feet.
The surge is expected to cause structural damage to building in many areas, with homes on barrier islands washed away entirely. Floating debris will cause further harm to homes.
Homeowners on tidal creeks should be prepared to see storm surges significantly farther inland than what they are used to, according to the NWS.
Coastal roads are expected flood and possibly wash out completely, with sand deposited on roadways cutting off access.
Beaches are also expected to suffer “extreme erosion,” according to the NWS, with dunes losing significant sand and new inlets possibly being carved into barrier islands.
Navigation will be hazardous afterward, as debris is expected to block waterways.
The heaviest winds in the area are expected in coastal Brunswick County, as of Wednesday. Holden Beach and Southport, among others, are expected to see winds of 80 to 100 mph from Thursday evening until Saturday afternoon.
Impacts could be “devastating to catastrophic,” according to the NWS, with sturdy buildings suffering structural damage as significant as roof or wall failure. Many large trees will be uprooted, with fences and roadway signs blown over. There will likely also be widespread power and communications outages. Damage will possibly be worsened by large projectiles, according to the NWS.
Forecasts differ for New Hanover County, with the NWS warning Pleasure Island and Wrightsville Beach to prepare for 80 to 100 mph winds with gusts reaching 130 mph. Slightly further inland, Wilmington residents have been warned to be prepared for winds of 55 to 75 mph, with gusts reaching 90 mph.
In Pender County, the peak wind forecast is for the equivalent of category 1 hurricane force winds, with winds reaching 60 to 80 mph and gusts reaching 100 mph. The Leland and Shallotte areas will see winds of 55 to 70 mph with gusts up to 85 mph.
Still, the NWS warned all residents to be prepared for the equivalent of Category 3 hurricane force winds due to potential shifts in the storm’s path.
The situation is also “somewhat favorable” for tornadoes, the NWS said, warning residents to be prepared to shelter quickly if a tornado warning is issued.
Local municipalities began announcing evacuation orders Monday.
Residents of Brunswick County areas including Waccamaw, the N.C. 133 corridor, the Daw’s Creek area, N.C. 904/Pireway Road and areas along Town Creek are under mandatory evacuation orders. Late Tuesday morning, the mandatory evacuation order was expanded to cover all unincorporated areas of the county.
Brian Watts, the county’s emergency management director, said, “The best thing to do is to get out the county.”
New Hanover County late Monday issued a voluntary evacuation for the entire county, including Wilmington.
In a statement Monday, Kure Beach warned residents to consider that Snow’s Cut Bridge will be closed entirely once winds reach a sustained 45 mph. Wrightsville Beach announced a mandatory evacuation on Tuesday. The island was limited to residents and permit holders on Wednesday, with evacuation complete by nightfall Wednesday.
Carolina Beach started its evacuation on Tuesday, with a goal of clearing all residents by 8 p.m. Wednesday.
On Wednesday, Pender County has issued a mandatory evacuation order for all residents. It supersedes a voluntary evacuation order that had previously been given for low-lying areas of the county, including along the Intracoastal Waterway, the Northeast Cape Fear River, the Black River, and folks who live in manufactured homes. Topsail Beach had already started its mandatory evacuations at 8 a.m. Wednesday.
Contact the Metro desk at 910-343-2384 or Breakingnews@StarNewsOnline.com.