Published: Tue, September 11, 2018
Science | By Celia Watts

Hurricane Florence strengthens to Category 4, takes aim at Carolinas

Hurricane Florence strengthens to Category 4, takes aim at Carolinas

A rapidly strengthening Hurricane Florence churned across the Atlantic on Sunday toward a possible direct hit on the U.S. Southeast late this week, triggering warnings to people up and down the coast to get their emergency kits ready, map out escape routes and fill sandbags.

By midday Monday, forecasters at the National Hurricane Center upgraded Florence to a Category 4 hurricane, with maximum sustained winds of 130 miles per hour.

"On the forecast track, the center of Florence will move over the southwestern Atlantic Ocean between Bermuda and the Bahamas Tuesday and Wednesday, and approach the coast of SC or North Carolina on Thursday".

"All indications are that Florence will be an extremely unsafe Category 4 hurricane while it moves over the western Atlantic toward the southeastern United States", the hurricane centre said.

USA landfall could come Friday between Charleston, South Carolina and Norfolk, Virginia, the Hurricane Center said.

National Hurricane Center Director Ken Graham warned that Florence was forecast to slow down significantly and linger over the Carolinas once it reaches shore, dropping heavy rainfall as far as West Virginia.

It is expected to approach the southeastern USA coast on Thursday.

Swells generated by Florence were affecting Bermuda and starting to reach parts of the U.S. East Coast.

The storm is centered about 685 miles (1,100 kilometers) southeast of Bermuda and moving west at 7 mph (11 kph).

Florence is actually the lone major hurricane of the season so far as it was initially a category 4 hurricane in the open Atlantic before weakening and now restrengthening again.

Helene intensified into a hurricane on Sunday with winds of 75 miles per hour.

Meteorologists with the National Weather Service said a landfall likely cannot be pinpointed for another 36 to 48 hours, but computer models and other indicators are lining up for a hit between the state line and Wilmington, but the storm could still hit anywhere from Savannah to Virginia. "The 12Z Sunday GFS model run also showed this scenario, but the 12Z Sunday UKMET model now has landfall occurring in North Carolina". It will continue to strengthen and likely upgrade to a category 4 by Tuesday.

Florence is a category 4 hurricane on the Saffir- Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale.

As of 5 p.m. ET Monday, the center of Florence was located about 1,170 miles from Cape Fear, North Carolina, and was moving to the west-northwest at 13 mph. As a major storm, the hurricane is expected to produce life-threatening conditions.

Florence grew into a major hurricane on Monday morning and was upgraded again to a Category 4 on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale of hurricane strength at midday as its top sustained wind speeds reached 130 miles per hour. "Florence could dump a foot of rain in places that cannot handle it, making for a very scary flooding situation in some areas".

"North Carolina is no stranger to hurricanes", Cooper said at a press briefing, noting that previous hurricanes - Matthew in 2016, Floyd in 1999 and Fran in 1996 - brought heavy wind and rain to the entire state.

Preparations for Florence come as the Atlantic hurricane season hits its peak.

Florence is moving toward the west near 9 km/h, and this general motion is expected to continue today.

Graham urged coastal residents to finish their planning before the arrival of tropical-storm-force windows on Wednesday.

On the forecast track, Isaac should move across the Lesser Antilles and into the eastern Caribbean Sea on Thursday.

Not only has the storm exploded in intensity, but its zone of hurricane-force winds approximately doubled in size Monday. Weakening is forecast to begin by the middle of the week.

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