Hurricane Florence began slowing down Wednesday and was expected to turn south after making a roaring landfall along the East Coast, a forecast that could have dire consequences for North and South Carolina, meteorologists said Wednesday.
Florence is a mammoth, Category 4 storm with sustained winds of 130 mph. It is expected to reach the Carolinas overnight Thursday, and more than a million people have been ordered to evacuate coastal areas.
National Weather Service in Wilmington, North Carolina, said the latest models show Florence reaching a “ridge” building over the eastern U.S., stalling and then moving into South Carolina. The office warned that Florence “will likely be the storm of a lifetime for portions of the Carolina coast.”
The slowdown could mean the storm essentially sits on the coast, dumping 20 to 30 inches of rain in some coastal areas; isolated 40-inch totals are possible. Hurricane winds could linger for 24 hours or more, a threat to sweep away trees and power lines.
“Heed the warnings,” FEMA’s Jeff Byard said. “Today’s the day. It’s time for citizens to be a part of the team… and evacuate.”
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The storm, as of 11 a.m. ET, was located about 485 miles southeast of Wilmington and 520 miles east-southeast of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, moving northwest at 15 mph. Florence is still forecast to make landfall in North or South Carolina. But the prediction previously had called for a move north.
“The NHC track has been adjusted southward … and additional southward adjustment may be warranted in future advisories,” the National Hurricane Center said Wednesday.
In North Carolina, Gov. Roy Cooper ordered an unprecedented evacuation of the state’s barrier islands. The storm surge alone will flood tens of thousands of structures, Cooper said Wednesday.
“Every County and every person in North Carolina needs to stay alert and to take this storm seriously,” Cooper said.
Not everyone was fleeing. In Wilmington, James Waters said he surfed Wednesday morning and was going to stay at his grandparents’ house just across the water from the islands.
“My grandparents are staying so I figured I would stay and help them,” Waters said. “We’ve been through some hurricanes before. They say this one is supposed to be really bad.”
Speaking of the unusual forecast track, which shows a spin to the south along the South Carolina coast, Weather Channel meteorologist Greg Postel said, “I’ve never seen anything like this.”
The current track could make a tremendous difference to residents of the Washington, D.C., metro area and points north. Alan Reppert, a senior meteorologist for AccuWeather, said areas around Richmond, Virginia, could see 8 inches of rain. Washington, 100 miles to the north, might only see an inch.
Ryan Maue, a weather.us meteorologist who said Florence is forecast to dump about 10 trillion gallons of water on the Carolinas, called the forecast “bizarre” and said that “the forecast after 72 hours is certainly a challenge … and a nightmare.”