We have been tracking Hurricane Florence for several days now, and it is now sitting just off the North Carolina coast. As of the latest NHC position report, Florence is about 45 miles south-southwest of Morehead City, NC. Wind gusts to hurricane force are already being reported onshore, with a wind gust to 86 MPH measured at Jacksonville, NC earlier this evening.
Taking a look at the Wilmington, NC radar, the eyewall is sitting just offshore, with some fairly strong (hurricane force) velocities noted from Topsail Beach up to about Morehead City. The strongest winds look likely to affect Pender and Onslow Counties, and will likely spread into New Hanover County as the storm wobbles towards the west-southwest slowly.
As noted in the 11:00 PM EDT discussion from NHC, the eyewall is open on the east side, and the overall convective structure of Florence is not very impressive. The 11 PM advisory downgraded Florence to a category one hurricane with maximum sustained winds of 90 MPH. The winds however are not going to be the story with Florence. The story with Florence will be the coastal flooding from storm surge, and inland flooding from heavy rainfall. The persistent onshore winds from this very large hurricane will lead to major coastal flooding from Cape Fear north to Cape Hatteras. As Florence moves inland, it will move very slowly, and will likely sit over the Carolinas for days. The forecast from WPC shows an incredible 20+ inches of rain likely across southeast North Carolina and northeast South Carolina, with over 10 inches of rain likely as far inland as Charlotte.
This rainfall will rival what was seen in this region in 1999 when Hurricane Floyd came ashore, producing catastrophic flash flooding. 20+ inches of rain will result in catastrophic flash flooding and major to record river flooding just about anywhere, but especially in the flat and low coastal plains of the Carolinas. The river forecasts from the Southeast River Forecast Center (SERFC) over the next few days are very foreboding, and show nine forecast points likely to reach major flooding. Major flooding is forecast along the Pee Dee River in South Carolina, and the Cape Fear River in North Carolina. In fact, three forecast points are forecast to reach record stages. These points are the Waccamaw River near Conway (current record is 17.87 feet set during Hurricane Matthew in 2016), the Northeast Cape Fear River near Burgaw (current record is 22.48 feet set during Hurricane Floyd), and the Northeast Cape Fear River near Chinquapin (current record is 23.51 feet set during Hurricane Floyd). The bottom line is that unprecedented flooding is forecast to take place within the 20+ inch rainfall area shown on the map above.
We are just getting started with the impacts from Hurricane Florence. Do not focus on the wind speed with Florence. While the 90 MPH winds will produce significant power outages, tree damage, and structural damage to small buildings, as with many recent hurricanes (Harvey, Matthew, Sandy, Irene, etc.), the story will be the water. In fact, the vast majority of deaths and destruction from hurricanes comes from water.
Editor’s Note: I’m going to try to be more intentional about writing in this blog going forward. It has been a while, especially with the summer doldrums lasting as long as they did. But as we get into fall and winter, I’ll at least try to find something to talk about each week. I’ve put weekly reminders in my calendar to try to force me to be more intentional about writing. Even if the weather is quiet, perhaps I’ll have some educational posts or something. Finally, due to large amounts of spam comments, I have disabled commenting on this blog, so if you wish to respond to a post, there are ways listed on this website to get in contact with me.