Air Force plane flies into Hurricane Florence

Watch as a US Air Force plane flies into the eye of Hurricane Florence to collect weather data for the National Hurricane Center.

Posted: Sep 14, 2018 3:45 AM
Updated: Sep 14, 2018 3:45 AM

Just as Hurricane Florence closes in on the Southeast, the area covered by hurricane-force winds has doubled -- meaning far more people will get blasted with winds 74 mph or greater.

By late Thursday afternoon, the Carolina coasts can expect winds topping 80 mph. And that's just the prelude to untold days of misery.

What also makes Florence extremely dangerous are the deadly storm surges, mammoth coastal flooding and historic rainfall expected far inland.

"Catastrophic effects will be felt outside the center of the storm due to storm surge as high as 9 to 13 feet. That's the second story of a house," North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper said Thursday morning. "Tens of thousands of structures are expected to be flooded, and many more by rising rivers and creeks."

And don't be fooled by the fact that Florence has weakened slightly to a strong Category 2 hurricane. Categories only represent the speed of sustained winds, and these are still destructive.

"I don't care if this goes down to a Category 1," CNN meteorologist Chad Myers said. "We're still going to have a Category 4 storm surge."

Even worse: Florence is expected to hover over the Carolinas, whipping hurricane-force winds and dumping relentless rain at least through Saturday.

By the time it leaves, it's expected to have unloaded 10 trillion gallons of rainfall in North Carolina, weather.us meteorologist Ryan Maue said. That's enough to fill more than 15 million Olympic-size swimming pools.

And now, many more people, houses and buildings are set to endure hurricane-force winds, which extend 80 miles out from Florence's center.

"It's cumulative damage," Myers said. When fierce winds keep up for a long time, homes are "going to start to deteriorate. So will the trees. So will the power lines, as the trees fall down."

FOLLOW THE HURRICANE'S PATH

Latest developments

Fierce winds and rain have started: "Rain bands with tropical-storm-force winds (are) moving onshore on the outer banks of North Carolina," the National Hurricane Center said. Tropical-storm-force winds are between 39 and 73 mph.

• Florence is getting closer: As of 8 ET Thursday morning, the center of Florence was about 170 miles east-southeast of Wilmington, North Carolina, and about 220 miles east of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. As the storm moves inland, Georgia, Virginia and Maryland will also be in peril.

• When is landfall? Florence's center will approach the North and South Carolina coasts late Thursday and Friday. The actual landfall -- when the center of the eye reaches land -- will be Friday afternoon at the earliest, said Neil Jacobs of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

• Storm surge is a huge threat: Strong winds will send rising water inland from the coastline of the Carolinas. The storm surge could rise up to 13 feet -- that's water inundating homes up to the first-floor ceiling, the National Hurricane Center said.

• Tornadoes are possible: A few twisters are likely later Thursday through Friday in southeast North Carolina, federal forecasters predicted.

• Many flights are canceled: At least 800 flights along the US East Coast have been canceled Thursday through Saturday ahead of the storm.

Millions flee or prep for chaos

Officials in the potential path of Florence urged people to evacuate their coastal homes and directed drivers away from the coast.

"You put your life at risk by staying," Cooper said. "Don't plan to leave once the winds and rains start."

Up to 40 inches of rain could fall in North Carolina. Cooper and South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster told more than 1 million people who were directed to leave that if they don't evacuate, no one will come to save them.

"Even the rescuers cannot stay there," he said.

Sign up for Hurricane Florence emails

In Carolina Beach, North Carolina, authorities have stopped allowing traffic to the island via the only bridge between the island and the mainland. They also instituted a 24-hour curfew. The town is less than 5 feet above sea level and officials worry that as many as 1,000 of the town's 6,300 residents are planning to stay.

Mayor Joe Benson said the storm will batter the oceanside town through two high-tide periods. Storm surge of 13 feet on top of a high tide at 7 feet could overwhelm Carolina Beach.

"Our sand dunes are healthy, but they're not going to be able to keep back a wall of water like that," he said. "Flooding is almost guaranteed."

Susan Faulkenberry Panousis has stayed in her Bald Head Island, North Carolina home during prior hurricanes, but not this time. She packed up what she could and took a ferry.

"When that last ferry pulls out ... it's unnerving to see it pull away and know, 'That's the last chance I have of getting off this island,'" she said Wednesday.

Emergencies declared in several states

Officials in several states have declared states of emergency, including in the Carolinas, Georgia, Virginia and Maryland, where coastal areas are still recovering from summer storms.

Florence's expanse even captured the attention of the astronauts and cosmonauts aboard the International Space Station, who have been tweeting pictures of the storm back to Earth.

"Watch out, America! #HurricaneFlorence is so enormous, we could only capture her with a super wide-angle lens from the @Space_Station, 400 km directly above the eye," German astronaut Alexander Gerst tweeted. "Get prepared on the East Coast, this is a no-kidding nightmare coming for you."

Florence is one of four named storms in the Atlantic. Tropical Storm Isaac is forecast to approach the Lesser Antilles Islands on Thursday. Hurricane Helene is veering toward Europe. And newly formed Subtropical Storm Joyce is not expected to threaten land soon. Those four storms are brewing at the same time Hurricane Olivia is pounding Hawaii.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 307332

Reported Deaths: 7095
CountyCasesDeaths
DeSoto20757248
Hinds19869408
Harrison17475302
Rankin13307275
Jackson13095243
Madison9886210
Lee9854169
Jones8289160
Forrest7522146
Lauderdale7185237
Lowndes6261144
Lamar610284
Lafayette6026117
Washington5279132
Bolivar4769129
Oktibbeha455297
Panola4440103
Pearl River4418139
Warren4277118
Marshall4267100
Pontotoc416472
Monroe4056132
Union403575
Neshoba3984176
Lincoln3869107
Hancock371985
Leflore3468124
Sunflower329389
Tate322681
Pike3177104
Scott310472
Yazoo304268
Alcorn297664
Itawamba296776
Copiah292965
Coahoma289677
Simpson287484
Tippah284668
Prentiss275659
Marion265679
Wayne261341
Leake260973
Grenada254882
Covington254380
Adams245882
Newton244859
George237647
Winston225981
Tishomingo222067
Jasper219748
Attala213273
Chickasaw204857
Holmes186471
Clay182354
Stone179131
Clarke176676
Tallahatchie175240
Calhoun163130
Yalobusha158636
Smith158534
Walthall130543
Greene129433
Lawrence126223
Noxubee125833
Montgomery125542
Perry125138
Carroll120826
Amite119941
Webster113432
Jefferson Davis105332
Tunica102525
Claiborne101330
Benton97225
Kemper95126
Humphreys94332
Franklin81723
Quitman78916
Choctaw72817
Jefferson64828
Wilkinson64727
Sharkey49617
Issaquena1686
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 518588

Reported Deaths: 10712
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson753351487
Mobile37698798
Madison33829494
Tuscaloosa25245443
Montgomery23942565
Shelby23094238
Baldwin20617300
Lee15510165
Calhoun14277311
Morgan14137268
Etowah13660345
Marshall11952219
Houston10379278
Elmore9988200
Limestone9806147
Cullman9467188
St. Clair9422234
Lauderdale9208227
DeKalb8745181
Talladega8042171
Walker7087275
Jackson6753110
Autauga6715103
Blount6480135
Colbert6200130
Coffee5397112
Dale4766110
Russell428238
Franklin419882
Chilton4080109
Covington4053114
Tallapoosa3892146
Escambia387574
Dallas3526149
Chambers3499122
Clarke346360
Marion3065100
Pike305475
Lawrence295295
Winston272272
Bibb256258
Marengo248561
Geneva245875
Pickens232959
Barbour224755
Hale218675
Butler212266
Fayette208960
Henry187844
Cherokee182044
Randolph176741
Monroe171240
Washington163838
Macon154348
Clay149354
Crenshaw149257
Cleburne146041
Lamar139234
Lowndes136453
Wilcox124327
Bullock121340
Conecuh109028
Perry107926
Sumter102932
Coosa99228
Greene90734
Choctaw58624
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High pressure brings sunny skies and dry conditions for Sunday with highs in the mid 70s. Rain chances build in during the week.
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