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Destructive Hurricane Florence to batter the Carolinas for days

By Alex Sosnowski, AccuWeather senior meteorologist
September 14, 2018, 2:50:47 PM EDT

See the latest forecast on Florence's coastal battering, hammering winds and inland flooding in the Carolinas. The story below is no longer being updated.

Hurricane Florence has made landfall and is on a path of destruction that will put millions of people at risk and threaten billions of dollars in damage.

Florence officially made landfall around 7:15 a.m. EDT near Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina, as the eye wobbled ashore.

Florence dipped to Category 2 hurricane strength with maximum sustained winds of 100 mph on Wednesday evening. During Thursday evening, it became a Category 1 storm with sustained winds of 90 mph.

The forward speed of Florence dropped from 17 mph on Wednesday to less than 5 mph during Thursday afternoon.

AccuWeather meteorologists believe that the hurricane will continue to meander slowly along the Carolina coast into Saturday. Wobbles, small loops and zigzags can occur. However, the rain and wind field around the storm will expand, power outages and damage reports will mount and flooding will increase.

As top wind speeds slowly come down, rainfall will ramp up and there is the potential for isolated tornadoes and waterspouts.

Static Florence Short Track 8 am

Despite the hurricane weakening somewhat since its peak as a Category 4, it has already grown substantially in overall size and its predicted deceleration in forward speed will take a costly toll.

For days, coastal areas will be bombarded with torrential rain, high winds, coastal erosion and storm surge, while inland areas will be poured upon. As the soil becomes saturated, gusty winds will topple trees and lead to widespread power outages.

“AccuWeather estimates that Hurricane Florence will cause $30-60 billion in economic impact and damage. To put this in context, we correctly predicted the full extent of Hurricane Harvey’s economic damage to be $190 billion last year. While we expect an AccuWeather Local StormMax™ of 40 inches of rain, extensive inland flooding and storm surge flooding from Florence, Hurricane Harvey unleashed more than 60 inches of rain locally centered around the United States’ fourth largest city, Houston, which has a population of 2.3 million,” AccuWeather Founder and President Dr. Joel N. Myers said.

“For further context, we accurately estimated the total economic impact from Hurricane Irma would be $100 billion. Additionally, Florence’s projected toll is less than Hurricane Sandy's toll of $69 billion and Katrina's cost of $161 billion,” Myers said.

"Other sources are predicting a financial toll for Florence of up to $170 billion, and we think that is extreme when looking at Florence’s track and impacts to people and their lives. Florence made landfall in North Carolina as a Category 1 storm Friday morning. Storms of this magnitude have struck the U.S. coastline in the past, in some cases causing $10 billion or less in total damage,” Myers said.

Static Florence Long Track 8 am

Help may not be available for days due to the dangerous conditions for those who chose to remain behind along the coast. Total inundation is likely in portions of eastern and southeastern North Carolina and perhaps the upper part of the South Carolina coast with a storm surge in excess of 10 feet in some areas.

Download the free AccuWeather app to stay up-to-date with Florence’s expected track and impacts to the U.S.

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Carolina coastline to be battered by hurricane conditions for more than 24 hours straight

The exact track, overall size and forward speed of the storm will determine which locations along the coast receive the worst of Florence's damaging winds, heavy rain and storm surge flooding.

Florence slowed subtantially as it approached the coast on Thursday evening, moving in a general west-southwest direction at only 5 mph.

This very slow, meandering movement of Florence will translate to long-duration high winds, storm surge and demolishing wave action.

Much of the North Carolina Outer Banks and mainland areas adjacent to Pamlico Sound, Albemarle Sound and Onslow Bay, North Carolina, will be continue to be hit hard by storm surge, high winds and torrential rain.

Areas southwest of the eye of the storm have experienced lower tides for a period of time as winds wrapping around the storm blow water out to sea.

"Any one of those rivers or streams that are emptying into the ocean are gonna rise because of the storm surge," Kottlowski said. "So in some cases, the storm surge could be just or bad as worse than being right at the coast because of the water getting funneled into those areas."

static flo impacts 9.14 6am

Florence may change the shape of the coastline in part of North Carolina by eroding some of the barrier slands and carving new inlets.

Some homes and businesses may be washed away on the barrier islands and along the immediate coast near and north of the storm center along the coast by dozens of miles.

Strong high pressure to the north is likely to enhance winds, wave action and coastal flooding farther north along the coast than what would normally occur.

As a result, Norfolk and Virginia Beach, Virginia can expect significant coastal flooding. Minor to moderate coastal flooding at times of high tide are likely on the Atlantic side of the Delmarva Peninsula and possible along the New Jersey barrier islands and back bays.

Regardless of whether or not Florence moves inland swiftly or stalls, dangerous surf conditions will extend as far to the north as Nova Scotia, as far to the south as the east-central Florida coast and the northeast-facing shoreline of the Bahamas and as far to the east as Bermuda. Few, if any, lifeguards are on duty to come to the rescue after Labor Day.

Operators of small craft should heed all advisories that are issued and remain in port if necessary.

Larger vessels, such as cruise or cargo ships, may have to reroute their courses to avoid Florence’s dangerous seas.

What will winds be like?

Destructive wind gusts topping 100 mph are likely near and just north of where Florence approaches the coast. At this time, AccuWeather meteorologist believe this zone to extend from near Morehead City, North Carolina to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, and may extend inland to more than 25 miles.

static Flo wind 9/14 4am

Long-duration, damaging wind gusts of 55 mph or greater and saturated ground may cause a tremendous amount of trees to fall and lead to widespread power outages from the southern tip of Delmarva to Charleston, South Carolina and as far inland as Raleigh and Charlotte, North Carolina, to Columbia, South Carolina. Once the power goes out, it could be several days and possibly a week or more before electrical service is restored in some communities.

AccuWeather Local StormMax™ of 40 inches predicted

As has been the case with hurricanes in most recent years, such as Lane in Hawaii earlier this summer and Harvey last year in Texas, feet of rain can fall when these tropical storms stall.

That scenario has a high probability of occurring in much of North Carolina, a large portion of South Carolina and parts of northern Georgia.

Given the likelihood of rain being measured in feet, rather than inches with Florence, widespread inland urban, small stream and major river flooding are anticipated in the Carolinas.

A major natural disaster due to inland flooding will unfold slowly as Florence drifts inland and may linger for days and a week or more after Florence's eventual departure and/or demise.

After spreading rain westward to the southern Appalachians and Piedmont areas, torrential rain is forecast to reach parts of the northeastern U.S. next week.

Three other tropical systems, Isaac, Helene and Joyce, are churning in the Atlantic Ocean with the potential for another system to develop in the Gulf of Mexico into Friday. Isaac may eventually be a threat for the U.S. upper Gulf coast next weekend.

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