By 5 a.m. Thursday, the outer bands of Hurricane Florence were approaching the coast of North Carolina, the National Hurricane Center warned. Shortly before 11 a.m., rain bands were “already well inland,” the National Weather Service tweeted, adding that it was the beginning of a long, “potentially-catastrophic flooding event well-inland.”
Though Florence was downgraded to a Category 2 storm with lower wind speeds, expected rainfall totals remain at catastrophic levels. Meteorologists predicted several feet of rain would pound the Carolinas as Florence makes landfall in the early hours of Friday morning, and the coastal and inland communities are both in danger of flooding.
Florence will bring widespread rainfall amounting to 20 to 30 inches, and totals exceeding 40 inches in isolated areas, predicted the National Weather Service forecast office in Newport/Morehead City, North Carolina.
Portions of southeastern North Carolina are expected to be hit the hardest, and meteorologists are watching whether the brunt of the rainfall will also shift to Wilmington and areas in South Carolina, including Myrtle Beach.
“We have worked with meteorologists across this region to refine these numbers and confidence is building that over 2 feet of rainfall is expected,” David Novak, director of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Weather Prediction Center, said late afternoon Wednesday.
The system is expected to bring a huge inland rainfall threat as well, with 6 to 10 inches in parts of North Carolina and toward the southern Appalachians.
“Water kills,” Novak said. “In fact, one out of four deaths are associated with inland extreme rainfall from these systems. If you’re inland from the coast and thinking this one isn’t about you, this one is about you, in North Carolina and portions of South Carolina.”
Residents of the Carolinas may recall how devastating Hurricane Floyd was in 1999. Florence carries a similar threat.
“That had rainfall of about 2 feet, and we are forecasting that, and perhaps even higher, in these portions of eastern North Carolina,” Novak said. “Again, we’re watching as we find these numbers whether this needs to adjust as well.”
“#Florence has weakened some but extremely dangerous storm surge and catastrophic multiple feet of rainfall is still anticipated for eastern North Carolina,” the NWS office in Newport/Morehead City tweeted late Wednesday.
South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster in a news briefing Thursday afternoon said that rainfall is expected to reach up to 20 inches in Myrtle Beach, up to 15 inches in the Pee Dee region and up to 10 inches in Charleston, Columbia and possibly Greenville. The Pee Dee River is expected to flood and upstate areas could experience landslides, McMaster added.
“Seven inches of rain may be expected in the upstate,” he said. “The very unusual part is it’s going to last about two days, so that means we’re going to have to be very patient.”
What It Means
Heavy rain could lead to dangerous flash flooding. Six inches of moving water can knock down people and 2 feet of moving water can sweep vehicles away, the Federal Emergency Management Agency warned on Thursday morning.
Most deaths related to water are associated with vehicles.
“If you’re driving and you approach a flooded roadway,” Novak said, “Please turn around.”