After Hurricane Florence expanded Tuesday into a behemoth throwing out powerful hurricane winds 70 miles from its center, forecasters on Wednesday began to warn of record rainfalls, tsunami-like storm surges, and a revised path that could curve downward and bring perilous rains and winds as far south as Georgia, which has declared a state of emergency.
The revised predictions came after Florence, currently a Category 3 storm, decelerated dramatically overnight, possibly signaling some good news about wind speeds but threatening to stall dangerously long—24 hours or more—after it hits, with the potential to drop as much as 40 inches of rain in isolated parts of the Carolinas, according to the National Hurricane Center.
The flooding could turn perilous, drenching low-level coastal areas and shearing off slabs of earth in Appalachia and other hilly areas unprepared for such rain. According to USA Today, Florence is predicted drop 10 trillion gallons of water on the Carolinas.
Forecasters also continued to warn of increasingly high storm surge, which could reach 9 feet at its peak. Those among the more than 1.5 million people ordered to evacuate coastal areas who choose to stay risk not just winds that can pull down trees or cripple structures but also a storm surge that could place dry land under 10 feet of water.
Out at sea, the hurricane has whipped up impressively high waves reaching up to 83 feet, and astronauts and meteorologists marveled at the storm’s size.
Florence, which could hit the East Coast as a Category 4 or strong 3 hurricane, is still expected to be the most dangerous and intense storm to hit the region in decades. North Carolina remains the most threatened by the storm, but Florence is expected to curve south after an extended battering of the state, dumping heavy rains on South Carolina. Meteorologists are predicting that for the Carolina coast, it will be “the storm of a lifetime.” The hurricane is less than 48 hours from making landfall.
Update, Sept. 12, 2018 at 3:10 p.m.: This post has been updated with Florence’s change from a Category 4 to a Category 3 hurricane.