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Florence’s excessive rainfall to trigger natural disaster in the Carolinas

By Alex Sosnowski, AccuWeather senior meteorologist
September 15, 2018, 11:05:22 AM EDT

Feet of rain from Florence could lead to catastrophic flash flooding and major river flooding in parts of the Carolinas and possibly other neighboring states.

Some communities in the Carolinas may be under water for days and possibly a week or more.

As AccuWeather meteorologists have warned about since the middle of the soggy and in some cases record wet summer, any tropical storm or hurricane that moves over saturated ground in the eastern United States during the height of the hurricane season may lead to disastrous flooding.

Flood Sep 15

"Strength, track and forward speed of Florence will be the major players in determining the scope and amount of rainfall and correspondingly the severity of inland flooding," according to AccuWeather Hurricane Expert Dan Kottlowski.

Brace for flooding on par with Floyd, Joaquin and other blockbuster hurricanes

In addition to storm surge flooding, inland flooding will escalate from urban and poor drainage areas to small streams. However, even as torrential rain ceases days after the initial first drops from Florence, major rivers in the region are likely to reach major flood stage.

Record flooding is possible.

Static Carolina Hurricane History

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

"People should expect not only travel disruptions but also disruptions to daily activities related to work or school."

Moving the most valuable items out of the basement and first floor onto the second floor in flood-prone areas may be of interest. Gathering important papers and irreplaceable photographs are also a good idea.

Static Florence Impacts 3 pm

As the rain pours down during the storm, inland evacuations may become necessary and the time for completing such tasks will come to an end as travel becomes increasing difficult and dangerous.

Some low-lying roads that are not flooded at the onset of the storm may become flooded during the weekend and early next week.

Have a plan of action in place ahead of the flooding. Work-at-home plans may not be an option in some communities where the power goes out or flooding commences. Without a means of power, computer and cell phone batteries will drain.

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Which areas are likely to be hit the hardest by inland flooding?

Florence has the potential to cause a storm record rainfall in North Carolina and South Carolina.

"At this time, the scenario for 1-2 feet of rain with a AccuWeather Local StormMax™ of 40 inches centered on portions of the Carolinas from Florence is on target," Kottlowski said.

Florence track 9.15 AM

This is due to Florence stalling over or moving very slowly through the region.

AccuWeather Local StormMax™ is more hyper local than other sources, and AccuWeather is predicting higher rainfall amounts than other sources. If 40 inches of rain fall, it will be the heaviest amount of rain from a single storm in the lower 48 states since Hurricane Harvey last year.

The 24-hour flash flood threshold ranges from 1 inch in the Appalachians to near 6 inches along the Carolina coast. Rainfall is forecast to exceed that range by a substantial margin.

Over 20 inches of rain has already fallen on portions of southeastern North Carolina since the start of the storm.

Enough rain to cause major flooding is likely in part of northern Georgia, eastern Tennessee and perhaps southern West Virginia, assuming the Florence continues to drift westward later this weekend into early next week.

A slight shift in the storm track even after landfall could bring rainfall of that magnitude into southern Virginia or farther south in Georgia.

There is a risk of flooding in part of the Northeast from Florence, but not until next week.

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