Florence to lash Carolinas with coastal battering, hammering winds and inland flooding through weekend

By Alex Sosnowski, AccuWeather senior meteorologist
September 15, 2018, 11:02:08 AM EDT

As Florence meanders, torrential rain, strong winds and flooding will take a heavy toll on the Carolinas this weekend.

AccuWeather meteorologists expect Florence to take a general westward drift from North Carolina to South Carolina into Sunday. This drift will be meandering at times with stalls, small loops and zigzags as the center wobbles along.

Florence zoom 9.15 AM

Florence made landfall at 7:15 a.m. EDT Friday near Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina.

While Florence's intense winds will ease off, the storm's proximity to the coast will allow the storm to tap rich moisture from the Atlantic Ocean and winds will be slow to diminish.

The slow forward motion will translate to not hours of heavy rain and strong winds but days of both in many cases. The worst part of Florence, inland flooding, may be yet to come.

Static Florence Impacts 3 pm

Florence's slow motion will pose great risk to lives and take a costly toll on property.

“AccuWeather estimates that 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.

Florence to pack a punch with wind despite being a tropical storm

Wilmington, North Carolina, had its highest gust of 105 mph which is the most powerful wind for the location since Hurricane Helene in 1958.

The risk of destructive tornadoes spinning up north and east of the storm center will continue into Sunday. Dangerous waterspouts are also possible along the coast.

Power outages will continue to mount near the coast and spread inland as Florence and its wind field spreads westward.

Wind gusts Sep 15

"Tropical-storm-force wind gusts of 39-50 mph can occur well inland," according to AccuWeather Hurricane Expert Dan Kottlowski.

Winds will remain strong enough on their own to break large tree limbs and knock down weak trees well inland to near the Interstate 85 corridor in North Carolina and the I-77 corridor in South Carolina.

As the soil becomes saturated, it will become easier for trees to fall over, since the trees will become top heavy.

Florence has produced significant storm surge flooding

Florence will continue to bring a substantial storm surge with water pushed toward the coast and back bay and tidal river water pushed toward the west and south on its northern side through at least Saturday.

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South of the storm center, across the South Carolina and Georgia coasts, a west to northwest wind will push Atlantic Ocean water away from the coast, but back bay water will be pushed toward the mainland side of barrier islands.

Beach erosion, pounding waves and coastal flooding are likely to continue through Sunday along the North Carolina and southeastern Virginia coasts.

Rain, inland flooding likely to be the worst of Florence

Over 20 inches of rain has fallen along part of the North Carolina coast. Gauges reporting higher amounts may have been affected by strong winds. However, rainfall will continue to ramp through the weekend.

Rain may fall on some areas of the Carolinas for two to four days. As rain continues to pour down and bands of intense rain rotate around the storm, urban flooding will escalate to small stream and major river flooding in the region.

Flood Sep 15

A general 12 to 24 inches of rain is forecast across central and southern North Carolina and northern and central South Carolina with an AccuWeather Local StormMax™ of 40 inches within that zone.

The extent and severity of flooding along the major rivers may not be realized until early next week as it will take a few days for the water to work its way downstream. For this reason, river flooding is sometimes called a slow-moving natural disaster.

Once river flooding commences, some communities may be under water for days and possibly a week or more.

A heightened risk of flash flooding is anticipated in the hills and mountains from western North Carolina to northern Georgia, eastern Tennessee, southwestern Virginia, eastern Kentucky and West Virginia.

The flash flooding over the hilly terrain may not occur until late this weekend and into early next week, due to the slow-moving nature of Florence.

Heavy rain and flooding are forecast to extend into the northeastern United States early next week.

While Florence's intense winds knocked out all National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Weather Radios, you can download the free AccuWeather app to stay tuned to the latest on the storm threats.

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