Region now under hurricane, storm surge watches

Tropical Weather

A GOES East satellite image provided by NOAA shows Hurricane Florence as it threatens the U.S. East Coast, Monday.


From staff, wire reports

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

With Hurricane Florence now forecast to make landfall in North Carolina late Thursday or early Friday, all area counties are under both hurricane and storm surge watches.

As of 8 a.m. today, Florence was a Category 4 hurricane packing 130 mph winds and moving about 15 mph west-northwest. It’s now about 1,010 miles southeast of Norfolk, Virginia, the National Weather Service said.

Based on the current forecast, Florence could cause storm surges of 3 to 6 feet above ground level in areas along the coast and near the Albemarle Sound, the center said. That forecast could change, however, should the storm’s track change.

Large breaking waves of 15 to 20 feet or greater are expected along the coast, resulting in significant beach erosion and ocean overwash Thursday through Friday night, the center said.

The region could see hurricane force winds in excess of 74 mph, with the strongest winds late Thursday night through Friday afternoon, the center said. However, tropical storm force winds of 40 mph could develop as early as Thursday morning.

The winds will be strong enough to knock down trees, damage structures and cause widespread power outages, the center warned.

Florence is also expected to bring heavy flooding across the region. The current forecast suggests much of the region could see 10 to 15 inches of rainfall, with some low-lying areas seeing higher amounts.

Flash flooding is expected Thursday into Saturday, while river flooding from heavy rainfall could persist for several days to weeks after the storm.

Forecasters also say there’s an increasing chance Florence will slow or stall once it reaches land. That could bring prolonged heavy rainfall.

Isolated tornadoes are also possible Thursday and Friday.

Because of the storm’s potential damaging impacts, Pasquotank and Camden counties have joined the ranks of local governments in declaring a state of emergency.

Both counties issued state-of-emergency declarations this morning, joining Currituck County and Chowan County and Edenton, which issued their declarations on Monday, and Elizabeth City, whose declaration took effect this morning.

Currituck officials reiterated this morning that the evacuation ordered in Corolla and Carova on Monday is for vacationers and guests only. No evacuations have been ordered for year-round residents there or on the mainland, the county said.

The impending storm has spurred a number of new cancellations in Currituck. A session of criminal district court scheduled for Wednesday has been canceled, as has a session of small claims court scheduled for Friday, county officials said. The Currituck Heritage Festival scheduled for Saturday has also been canceled.

Currituck school officials announced Monday that starting today, schools will be closed for students for the rest of the week. Schools in Elizabeth City-Pasquotank and Perquimans County have already announced they’ll close for students on Wednesday.

Elizabeth City State University announced it was cancelling classes today after noon and starting a voluntary evacuation of student residence halls. All student dorms will be closed at 5 p.m. on Wednesday. 

College of The Albemarle announced Monday it was closing all of its campuses as of today. 

Florence is still a Category 4 hurricane and is expected to regain its top wind strength in the next day or so. The storm’s first effects were already apparent on barrier islands as dangerous rip currents hit beaches and seawater flowed over a state highway.

The National Hurricane Center says a new report from an Air Force Reserve Unit hurricane hunter aircraft indicates that Hurricane Florence’s top sustained winds have decreased slightly to 130 mph, with higher gusts.

The 8 a.m. forecast changes the storm surge watch for the eastern United States, with the worst impact, a surge of up to 12 feet, expected on a stretch from Cape Fear to Cape Lookout in North Carolina. It says total rainfall could reach 30 inches in some places, prompting life-threatening flash flooding from South Carolina to Northern Virginia. 

Florence could hit the Carolinas harder than any hurricane since Hazel packed 130 mph winds in 1954. That Category 4 storm destroyed 15,000 buildings and killed 19 people in North Carolina. In the six decades since then, many thousands of people have moved to the coast.