Hurricane Florence is expected to hit the southeastern U.S. as “a large and extremely dangerous hurricane,” the National Hurricane Center says, after the storm quickly strengthened today. Although Florence is predicted to land north of St Johns County, it will bring “life-threatening impacts” to North Carolina and neighboring states late this week.
Florence is now a Category 4 storm, reaching that status a day earlier than experts had predicted. The hurricane center announced the change in an update to Historic City News, citing data from a NOAA Hurricane Hunter aircraft that showed Florence was rapidly intensifying, with maximum sustained winds near 130 mph.
“Life-threatening freshwater flooding is likely from a prolonged and exceptionally heavy rainfall event, which may extend inland over the Carolinas and Mid Atlantic for hundreds of miles as Florence is expected to slow down as it approaches the coast and moves inland,” meteorologist Stu Ostro of The Weather Channel reported via Twitter.S
As of 12:00 p.m. ET Monday, Florence was moving at 13 mph, some 575 miles south-southeast of Bermuda the hurricane center said. Over the next 36 hours, Florence’s winds could reach 150 mph, the hurricane center says. The storm is already 500 miles wide — meaning a large area will be at risk when it nears land.
Florence is one of three hurricanes in the Atlantic Ocean, along with Helene and Isaac. Of the two other storms, which remain far from land, Isaac poses the most immediate risk. With winds of 75 mph, it’s expected to strengthen a bit before weakening as it approaches the Lesser Antilles on Thursday and Friday.
The hurricane’s impacts could range from a strong storm surge to flooding from torrential rainfall and hurricane-force winds. Forecasters warn that the predicted track will likely change — but for now, it shows the strong hurricane bearing down on the North Carolina coast, with a potential landfall north of Wilmington.
Florence is currently projecting hurricane-force winds (74 mph and higher) up to 30 miles from its center. Forecasters say that because of the size the storm is expected to attain, it will wreak havoc regardless of how strong its winds are.
Once it makes landfall, Florence is predicted to stall and remain over North Carolina for at least 24 hours – increasing the threat of dangerous flooding, NHC director Ken Graham said on Monday.
Even in areas far from the coast, he added, parts of North Carolina and Virginia could see rain totals of 10-15 inches over the next seven days.