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Closing in on landfall in Carolinas, Hurricane Florence weakens to Category 1 storm
This story was updated at 1:15 a.m. ET
It looks like Hurricane Florence is settling in for a longer-than-expected stay on the Carolinas coast.
As of the 11 p.m. ET update from the National Hurricane Center, Florence’s winds have slowed, bringing it down to a Category 1 hurricane. Its maximum sustained winds were recorded at 90 mph.
In spite of that reduced strength, Florence is still considered a “life-threatening storm,” by the NHC.
Florence is now moving very slowly for a hurricane, toward the northwest at 6 mph. In contrast, Hurricane Hugo was moving at 35 mph between Columbia and Charlotte in 1989.
Forecast models predict Florence will move on a slow westward to west-southwest track into central South Carolina.
When will Florence make landfall?
The first of the rain and wind gusts from Florence rolled ashore just before dawn Thursday at Morehead City, a Carteret County town that is expected to get 20 to 30 inches of rain in the next three days. The Weather Channel is reporting waves have already breached dunes along some parts of the Outer Banks, something experts predicted would add to rapid storm surge.
In the 11 p.m. update, the eye of Florence would hit land near the Wrightsville Beach area around 8 a.m. Friday, according to New Hanover County Emergency Management Director Steven Still, CBS News reported.
Hurricane Florence was about 50 miles away from Morehead City, and 60 miles from Wilmington in the 11 p.m. update.
How big a storm is Florence?
“Florence is a tremendously large hurricane,” the NHC said. “Hurricane-force winds (74-95 mph) extend outward up to 80 miles from the center and tropical-storm-force winds (39 to 73 mph) extend outward up to 195 miles.”
Where is the power out?
More than 181,000 residents and businesses, mostly in eastern counties, were without power as of 11:30 p.m., according to online updates from Duke Energy, the N.C. Electric Cooperatives and smaller utility companies. “The top counties affected are Beaufort, Carteret, Craven, Onslow, Pamlico and Pender,” according to the North Carolina Department of Public Safety.
In South Carolina, SCE&G reported no outages as of 11 p.m., but the Electric Cooperatives of South Carolina said there were 276 power outages in Georgetown County — near Myrtle Beach.
Where is there flooding?
Roads in New Bern and greater Craven County are hit by rain and flooding from the Neuse River, which has recorded 9.6 feet of flooding, the NHC reported.
The Cherry Branch Ferry Terminal on the Neuse River near Havelock is seeing a storm surge of 10 feet above normal levels, according to the NHC.
N.C. 12 is closed on Hatteras Island and parts of U.S. 70 are shut down between Beaufort and Atlantic, as floodwaters covered the pavement, according to the N.C. Department of Transportation.
The National Weather Service is forecasting record Cape Fear River flooding in Pender and Duplin counties early next week, with the water reaching about 24 feet, or 11 feet above flood stage.
The threat of freshwater flooding will increase in the coming days, according to the NHC. “Heavy and excessive rainfall” could cause “catastrophic flash flooding” in both Carolinas, as some areas are forecast to receive 20 to 30 inches of rain, and isolated spots of 40 inches.
What about tornadoes?
“Almost all tropical cyclones making landfall in the United States spawn at least one tornado, provided enough of the tropical cyclones circulation moves over land,” a report by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said.
Radar showed a half-dozen tornadoes in eastern and southeastern North Carolina, the National Weather Service reported. Much of the Carolinas coast has been under a daylong tornado watch.
The NHC said more tornadoes are possible in “eastern and southeastern North Carolina through Friday.”
What happens next?
The majority of both North and South Carolina are within the “cone of uncertainty” in the latest path, according to the NHC.
Florence is expected to move inland across “extreme southeastern North Carolina and extreme eastern South Carolina,” Friday and Saturday, the NHC reported. Beginning Sunday, the storm is predicted to curve sharply north and east beginning along the western edges of North and South Carolina and move upward through Virginia, West Virginia, Pennsylvania and into New York by 2 p.m. Tuesday.
“Hurricane conditions are occurring over portions of the coast of North Carolina and are expected to spread across portions of southeastern North Carolina and eastern South Carolina through Friday,” the NHC reported. “Tropical storm conditions are expected to spread inland across the remainder of the warning area through Saturday.”