Still dangerous, Cat 2 Florence expected to make landfall south of Wilmington
North Carolina is now less than 24 hours away from the landfall of Hurricane Florence, which weakened to a Category 2 storm overnight but is still expected to have devastating effects on both the central and southeastern portions of the state, particularly the coast.
7:10 a.m.: In Dare County, winds are picking up just like they are in Wilmington. Despite mandatory evacuation orders for the Outer Banks, a group of seasoned locals told WRAL they would remain at their homes and that they’ve been through this before. Even though the path of the storm has shifted significantly south, toward Wilmington and Brunswick County, officials in the Outer Banks are concerned about storm surge and flooding.
6:50 a.m.: Curious to know if your home is at risk for flooding? The City of Raleigh has an interactive map to help you find out.
6:30 a.m.: The bridge that leads to Wrightsville Beach is closed, and officials say they evacuated 2,500 from the area on Wednesday.
6:15 a.m.: Prolonged heavy rainfall is expected to start in the Triangle late this afternoon or this evening and continue Friday and Saturday. The Triangle could see up to 8 inches, and areas south of the Triangle wil see more.
6 a.m.: Even though the storm has weakened to Category 2, there will still be damage to buildings from the wind and devastating storm surge at the coast. The Triangle should brace for flooding, falling trees and wind damage.
5:50 a.m.: Elizabeth Gardner said Florence will most likely make landfall around 2 a.m., which means the Triangle will see the worst of the storm Friday.
5:30 a.m.: Live video from Wilmington shows strong winds and rain less than 24 hours before the center of the storm is expected to make landfall. Wilmington residents were urged to evacuate earlier this week.
5:15 a.m.: Cumberland, Hoke, Johnston, Lee, Moore, Richmond, Scotland and Wilson are under a tropical storm warning. Wayne and Sampson counties are under a hurricane warning along with much of southeast North Carolina and the coast.
5 a.m.: The latest update from the National Hurricane Center shows little change in the storm. Florence has maximum winds of 110 mph and is still predicted to make landfall in Wilmington overnight.
4:45 a.m.: A flash flood watch will be in effect for Wake, Chatham, Cumberland, Duplin, Edgecombe, Franklin, Harnett, Hoke, Johnston, Lenoir, Moore, Nash, Sampson, Scotland,Wayne, and Wilson counties from 8:00 a.m. until 8:00 p.m. Saturday. At 5, we’ll get more information on the path and strength of Florence.
4:30 a.m.: Hurricane Florence is expected to make landfall south of Wilmington late Thursday or early Friday as a Category 2 storm.
2 a.m.: At 2 a.m., The National Hurricane Center said Florence was moving northwest at 17 mph with maximum sustained winds of 110 mph. A storm is classified Category 3 if its winds are recorded at 111 mph or more.
11:10 p.m.: WRAL Chief Meteorologist Greg Fishel said that even though Florence has unexpectedly weakened into a Category 2 storm, the hurricane could still pose a significant risk.
“This amount of weakening was not anticipated,” he said. “Does this mean we have much less to worry about? Not at all.”
Fishel said that the wind field associated with the storm is continuing to increase in size and could cause devastating storm surge. He compared Florence’s wind field to Hurricane Sandy, which was only a Category 1 storm when it made landfall but still caused devastating effects along the Jersey Shore in New Jersey in 2012.
“The overall wind speeds may not be all that impressive at landfall, but the storm surge could be enormous,” he said.
The National Hurricane Center is still predicting a storm surge of 9 to 13 feel along the coast and in the Pamlico Sound and area rivers.
Fishel said the storm is currently expected to make landfall along the North Carolina coast overnight Thursday as a Category 2 storm, but there is a potential for the storm to regain strength before doing so.
The storm is continuing to follow the same track, heading into South Carolina after making landfall near Wilmington.
“The farther north and west you are, the less risk you have,” WRAL meteorologist Mike Maze said.
11 p.m.: The latest update from the National Hurricane Center shows that Florence has weakened to a Category 2 storm with sustained winds of 110 mph.
The storm is 385 miles southeast of Raleigh and is moving northwest at 17 mph.
The latest storm track shows Florence tracking farther south, and Fishel said that will lessen the storm’s impacts in the Triangle.
“We have the potential for power outages but, at this point in the Triangle, I don’t see this as a big problem like Fran because it’s going farther south,” he said.
Duke Energy officials say Florence will knock out power to an estimated 1 million to 3 million customers in North and South Carolina.
“The magnitude of the storm is beyond what we have seen in years,” Howard Fowler, Duke’s incident commander, said in a statement. “With the storm expected to linger, power restoration work could take weeks instead of days.”
If Florence continues on its projected path, it will make landfall along the coast late Thursday. The Triangle shouldn’t see major effects of Florence, like strong winds and rains, until overnight Thursday, but it is still too early to know the storm’s timeline for sure.
“The closer we get to Thursday and Friday, the better idea we’ll have,” said Gardner.
As the storm gets closer to the center of the state, it should weaken to Category 1, but the effects could still be devastating for the Triangle.
Rain and strong winds are the biggest threats from Florence, Garner said. Power outages, downed trees and a risk for catastrophic flooding are all potential issues in the Triangle.
City officials have lowered the water levels at Lake Johnson, Lake Benson and other reservoirs to absorb as much water as possible from the storm, Hall said. Crabtree Creek frequently floods after heavy rains and is expected to overflow its banks during the the hurricane, he said, but the city can’t do anything beyond monitoring the situation and notifying residents as conditions change.
Forecast models show Florence could bring a storm surge of nine to 13 feet and could bring up to 20 inches of rain along the coast. With the storm continuing to track farther south, the Triangle can expect to see about 3 to 6 inches of rain.
The storm surge along the coast alone is expected to flood thousands of homes and businesses, Cooper said.
About 3,000 National Guard members have been activated to assist with hurricane recovery, and more are on standby, officials said. Fourteen squads of State Highway Patrol troopers also are ready to deploy to hard-hit areas after Florence passes to assist with recovery efforts, patrol commander Col. Glenn McNeill said.
Fishel said storm surges are expected to be between nine and 13 feet and could cause greater problems when they back up into nearby bodies of water, including the Tar and Neuse rivers.
Between 750,000 and 1 million North Carolina residents are under evacuation orders, Gov. Roy Cooper said. Fifty shelters have been opened across the state for evacuees, and a “mega-shelter” that can house at least 1,000 people was opening Wednesday evening at Lawrence Joel Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Winston-Salem, he said.
“If you aren’t under evacuation orders, now’s the time to finish preparations and get ready to hunker down,” Cooper said. “We expect this storm to be with us for days.”
Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler said the hurricane poses serious threats to crops that are just starting to be harvested. Livestock have already been moved to higher ground, but river flooding could create contamination issues with hog waste lagoons, even though water levels in them have been lowered.
The state has set up the North Carolina Disaster Relief Fund at rebuild.nc.gov to accept hurricane relief donations, Cooper said.
Wake County schools are closed Thursday and Friday along with numerous other schools in North Carolina. Monitor WRAL’s closings page for updates.