As the threatening Category 4 Hurricane Florence barrels toward the southern East Coast, more than a million people are expected to evacuate, some of them under mandatory orders put in place by officials in North and South Carolina and Virginia.
Millions of others are preparing for the rains and winds of what some are predicting to be the worst hurricane to hit the Carolinas since Hazel in 1954. After gathering strength at an astonishing rate Monday, the hurricane slowed slightly by Tuesday morning, according to the National Hurricane Center, but it remained a powerful Category 4 storm and is growing and projected to build up strength before weakening again slightly on Thursday. Forecasters expect it to make landfall as a strong Category 3 on the coasts of the Carolinas.*
The storm is not expected to hit until Thursday night, but it will be preceded by powerful winds and dangerous storm surges. The danger will not pass once it slams the coast, however: The threat might be higher in inland areas than in coastal areas, as Florence is predicted to linger, dropping vast quantities of rain in areas ill-equipped for it and triggering flash floods and possibly mudslides.
South Carolina has ordered the state’s coastline to evacuate starting Tuesday afternoon, and Virginia has ordered the same for its low-lying coastal areas. Some coastal counties in North Carolina are also evacuating.
According to the National Hurricane Center, a large swath of the affected area will be deluged by more than 10 inches of rain, and some places could see as much as 30. Like Hurricane Harvey in 2017, Florence is expected to drench inland areas as it stalls, but the threat of a heavy rainfall is more worrisome in the hilly areas on the western end of Florence’s path than on the flat terrain of Texas.
While meteorologists typically resist tying a single extreme storm to climate change, rising sea levels promise to make storm surges higher and more costly, and warmer waters fuel more powerful hurricanes. Florence is considered abnormally powerful for a hurricane so far north.
There are currently two other major storms churning in the Atlantic as the hurricane season reaches its peak. Isaac, downgraded to a tropical storm, may either build back up to a Category 1 hurricane or be torn apart by wind shear as it heads toward the Caribbean. Hurricane Helene, much farther east, is projected to spin upward toward Europe. In the Pacific, Hurricane Olivia was downgraded to a tropical storm. It is expected to hit Hawaii late Tuesday or early Wednesday.
Update, Sept. 11, 2018 at 4:10 p.m.: This post has been updated with new forecasts.