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: 250869

Reported Deaths: 5481
CountyCasesDeaths
DeSoto16841171
Hinds15890312
Harrison13037191
Rankin10439205
Jackson10128177
Lee8721135
Madison8071160
Jones6166108
Forrest5870117
Lauderdale5724177
Lowndes5238109
Lafayette486192
Lamar475363
Washington4734122
Bolivar3941106
Oktibbeha388179
Panola360475
Pontotoc358752
Monroe3487103
Warren337895
Union337457
Marshall336065
Neshoba3325150
Pearl River319492
Leflore2980104
Lincoln293385
Sunflower277569
Tate266659
Alcorn260651
Itawamba258858
Pike258176
Hancock253557
Prentiss242450
Scott241043
Yazoo237754
Copiah237449
Tippah236246
Simpson232367
Leake227864
Coahoma223154
Grenada215770
Covington208871
Marion206171
Adams201666
Winston198061
George197438
Wayne196130
Attala191658
Newton186542
Chickasaw181243
Tishomingo179659
Holmes167867
Jasper165134
Clay156732
Stone140218
Tallahatchie138234
Clarke136460
Calhoun133321
Smith118823
Yalobusha113834
Walthall111136
Noxubee109622
Greene108929
Montgomery108134
Carroll103721
Lawrence101217
Perry99131
Amite96425
Webster90624
Claiborne85125
Tunica84521
Jefferson Davis83825
Humphreys81524
Benton80323
Kemper75720
Quitman6758
Franklin65315
Choctaw59613
Wilkinson58125
Jefferson53019
Sharkey42417
Issaquena1586
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 417528

Reported Deaths: 6030
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson61313888
Mobile29768542
Madison26637185
Tuscaloosa20580268
Montgomery18696304
Shelby18310113
Baldwin16002179
Lee12261101
Morgan12093112
Etowah11604157
Calhoun10982200
Marshall10108107
Houston8474129
Cullman7960104
Limestone790174
Elmore7723101
DeKalb764697
St. Clair7460120
Lauderdale745183
Talladega6102108
Walker5852174
Jackson574441
Blount526483
Colbert525670
Autauga510355
Coffee434256
Dale391081
Franklin363445
Chilton333565
Covington326167
Russell323810
Escambia312442
Dallas300296
Clarke278233
Chambers277869
Tallapoosa2599107
Pike245829
Marion240549
Lawrence240447
Winston223835
Bibb213047
Geneva197431
Marengo197329
Pickens195231
Hale173742
Barbour171236
Butler167958
Fayette166026
Cherokee159630
Henry151119
Monroe144417
Randolph138535
Washington136526
Clay125246
Crenshaw118044
Lamar116619
Cleburne116023
Macon113335
Lowndes108735
Wilcox101221
Bullock98128
Perry95419
Conecuh92920
Sumter88726
Greene75323
Coosa60414
Choctaw51224
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