Hurricanes

Hurricane Florence is getting stronger, will still make landfall as major hurricane

Posted September 9, 2018 7:06 a.m. EDT
Updated September 10, 2018 12:24 a.m. EDT

— Florence is continuing to strengthen in the Atlantic as it heads towards the North Carolina coast, according to the National Hurricane Center's 11 p.m. update.

The latest update shows Florence as a Category 1 storm with maximum sustained winds of 90 mph. The storm was slowly moving west toward the East Coast at 7 mph on Sunday, but forecasters expect it to strengthen into a major hurricane by the time it reaches the coast.

11 p.m. Florence track

WRAL meteorologist Kat Campbell said Florence is expected to become a major hurricane with winds of 120 mph by Monday afternoon and will likely strengthen into a Category 4 storm, with winds of 150 mph, by Tuesday.

“We haven’t seen anything like that approaching the coast, assuming this is close to being correct, since Hazel,” WRAL Chief Meteorologist Greg Fishel said. "This is certainly going to make a stronger approach, in terms of wind speeds the way it looks now, than Fran did."

Most models show North Carolina right in the middle of the storm's path and the cone of uncertainty extends to Central North Carolina.

"While it looks like this storm is forecast to head right towards Wilmington, there's still a great deal of uncertainty about where it will go," Campbell said.

Campbell said the storm could make landfall anywhere along the North Carolina or South Carolina coasts, based on current forecast models.

American Ensemble Plot

Thunderstorm force winds

The 11 p.m. update showed that North Carolina could begin feeling impacts from the storm as early as Wednesday.

Campbell said the southern part of the North Carolina coast has at least a 90 percent chance of seeing tropical storm force winds by 8 p.m. Wednesday. Florence is predicted to be a Category 4 storm, with winds of 140 mph, as it approaches the North Carolina coast Thursday afternoon.

By time the storm hits the Sandhills on Friday afternoon, it will have tropical storm force winds of about 65 mph, Campbell said.

"Be prepared, not scared. We've got time to prepare for this storm," Campbell said.

Gov. Cooper: 'We want residents to be ready' for Florence

On Friday, Gov. Roy Cooper declared a State of Emergency, making it possible to waive the state's transportation rules so North Carolina farmers can harvest and transport their crops to market faster.

Cooper said that many North Carolina farmers lost a significant number of crops when Hurricane Matthew hit in 2016, so the State of Emergency gave them time to prepare before the storm arrives.

"We did it a little earlier than we normally would have because so many crops were in the field," Cooper said Sunday in exclusive interview with WRAL News.

As many in North Carolina still struggle to recover from Hurricane Matthew, Cooper said lessons learned during that storm are helping officials be better prepared when Florence arrives later this week.

"We learned about flood modeling and we were able to compare different flood scenarios with the different paths [the storm] might take, so we can predict where flooding might occur and we can deploy our resources," he said.

Cooper said the decision to put evacuation orders in place will be left up to local officials, who best know their communities and residents, but predicted that evacuation orders will likely be issued along the coast in the coming days.

"I would imagine if this storm continues its intensity and its track, we're going to have evacuations on the North Carolina coast," Cooper said.

Cooper said officials will hold a briefing on storm preparations at 11 a.m. Monday, but urged residents on Sunday to familiarize themselves with evacuation routes and have a plan for pets if the storm hits.

"We want to hope and pray for the best, but we have to prepare for the worst," he said. "We're ready here in North Carolina, our emergency responders are on the ready and we want residents to be ready as well."

Affect on NC coast

Florence is already causing rough surf and rip currents along the North Carolina coast, and, according to Moss, parts of the Carolina coast could begin feeling significant impacts from the storm as early as Wednesday night. Residents in North Carolina and other East Coast states should pay attention to the storm and begin to think about hurricane plans.

"It could approach the coast as far south as Georgia, or as far north as Virginia, and if we're really lucky it will stay away from the coast altogether," said Moss.

Twelve water rescues were made Saturday and another 15 were necessary at Wrightsville Beach on Sunday as a result of rip currents caused by Florence.

Sunday evening, red flags were up to warn people to stay out of the water, but many surfers were still seen trying to catch a wave.

The biggest threats include flooding and damaging winds.

On Sunday afternoon, the University of North Carolina at Wilmington said that all university-sponsored events and athletics will be cancelled and a voluntary evacuation will be in place from 12 p.m. Monday as a result of the impending storm.

University officials said that students are encouraged, but not required, to leave campus and all classes will be canceled.

Residents stock up before the storm

As Hurricane Florence gets closer to North Carolina, Raleigh residents spent their Sunday afternoon stocking up on supplies.

Store owners said the two biggest sellers have been gas and bottled water, with shelves bare in many stores across the Triangle.

"Just in case I might have to make a quick getaway, I have a full tank of gas and I'm ready," Raleigh resident Tony Johnson said.

Johnson is not taking any chances with Hurricane Florence and was one of many getting gas and groceries on Sunday.

"I got a lot of canned vegetables, some that you don't have to cook on the stove, and I got a lot of water and a lot of bread," Johnson said. "I got candles, I got flashlights, I got tons of gallons of water. Yeah, I'm ready."

Though weakened to a tropical storm, Florence was expected to regain hurricane strength as it neared Bermuda. Large swells were already expected to hit the British island territory in the north Atlantic Ocean Saturday.

More storms in the Atlantic

In the Eastern Atlantic the disturbance east of the Cabo Verde Islands has strengthened into Tropical Storm Helene, the eighth named storm of the 2018 Atlantic Hurricane season. The environment over the next few days was expected to support some further intensification. Helene will pass close to or perhaps over the southernmost Cabo Verde Islands Saturday night and Sunday. Gusty winds and heavy rainfall were expected this weekend for the island nation.

As the storm moves away from the Cabo Verde Islands later Sunday, it was expected to have the opportunity to become a hurricane. After passing the Cabo Verde Islands the system was not expected to pose a direct threat to land for at least several days.

Tropical Depression Nine formed 1755 miles east of the Windward Islands Friday.

Storms we are watching

Satellite images have shown gradual organization during the past 24 hours and the system should continue to develop through the next several days. Given sufficient warm water and low shear, Depression Nine should become a tropical storm sometime on Saturday. The favorable environmental conditions are expected along the path of this developing tropical cyclone and the system should become a hurricane during the early or middle part of next week.

The low pressure area that has formed into Depression Nine has moved very little during the past several hours. But it was expected to move on a mostly westward course during the next 24 hours. Then an almost due west path is forecast through the rest of the weekend and through early next week. The current projected path could bring this system over the Lesser Antilles during the latter part of next week.