Hurricane Florence: ‘Extremely dangerous’ storm threatens East Coast

a satellite image of the hurricane Image copyright AFP
Image caption Forecasters say the hurricane will certainly hit the US coastline

Evacuations have been ordered as the US East Coast braces for Hurricane Florence – in what may be the strongest storm to hit the region in two decades.

South Carolina, North Carolina and Virginia have declared states of emergency, and residents are stocking up on essential supplies.

Officials say Florence is now a category three storm with 115mph (183km/h) winds, and gaining strength.

It is expected to strike the Carolinas by Thursday.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption International Space Station by astronaut Ricky Arnold took this photo of Florence on 6 September

Florence – which was 1,200 miles (2,000km) southeast of Cape Fear, North Carolina, on Monday morning – could reach category four as its draws strength from the warm Atlantic waters, say forecasters.

It would be the first category three storm to hit the region since Fran ravaged North Carolina 1996. It would be the first East Coast hurricane since Jeanne struck Florida in 2004.

The National Hurricane Center (NHC) says Florence may bring catastrophic levels of rain and flooding to coastal and inland regions.

The National Weather Service warned it may be “an extremely dangerous major hurricane” by the time it made landfall.

The Miami-based NHC said: “There is an increasing risk of life-threatening impacts from Florence: storm surge at the coast, freshwater flooding from a prolonged and exceptionally heavy rainfall event inland, and damaging hurricane-force winds.”

The agency called Florence an “extremely dangerous” weather event.

“Somebody is going to suffer devastating damage if this storm continues as it is currently forecast,” National Weather Service meteorologist Dan Miller told The State newspaper in South Carolina.

States of emergency

North Carolina officials on Monday ordered residents to evacuate the state’s Outer Banks barrier islands.

There have been long queues in supermarkets around communities near waterways and coastlines as residents clear shelves of water, batteries and plywood.

South Carolina’s state emergency management agency said on Sunday that it is “preparing for the possibility of a large-scale disaster”.

Image copyright NOAA
Image caption A government satellite image shows the storm’s location on Sunday

“Pretend, assume, presume that a major hurricane is going to hit right smack dab in the middle of South Carolina and is going to go way inshore,” said South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster.

In North Carolina, Governor Roy Cooper waived agricultural transportation restrictions in order to allow farmers to move goods more quickly.

“During harvest, time is of the essence. Action today can avoid losses due to Florence.”

Red flag warnings are keeping swimmers off beaches, as residents sandbag their homes in the communities of Myrtle Beach in South Carolina, and the Outer Banks in North Carolina.

“Literally, they are filling buggies full of water, shopping carts full of water,” Ryan Deeck, grocery department manager at a Walmart, told The Sun News in Myrtle Beach.

Naval preparations

Naval Station Norfolk, the largest naval installation in the world, is preparing to send ships away from bases to weather the storm out at sea.

Two other hurricanes are currently churning in the Atlantic Ocean.

Hurricanes Isaac and Helene are expected to accelerate over the next several hours, but at this point, are not expected to threaten the US mainland.


A guide to the world’s deadliest storms

Hurricanes are violent storms that can bring devastation to coastal areas, threatening lives, homes and businesses.

Hurricanes develop from thunderstorms, fuelled by warm, moist air as they cross sub-tropical waters.
Warm air rises into the storm.

Air swirls in to fill the low pressure in the storm, sucking air in and upwards, reinforcing the low pressure.

The storm rotates due to the spin of the earth and energy from the warm ocean increases wind speeds as it builds.

When winds reach 119km/h (74mph), it is known as a hurricane – in the Atlantic and Eastern Pacific – or a typhoon in the Western Pacific.

“Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the face. Well, we’re about to get punched in the face.”
Florida Mayor Bob Buckhorn, ahead of Hurricane Irma (2017)

The central eye of calmer weather is surrounded by a wall of rainstorms.
This eyewall has the fastest winds below it and violent currents of air rising through it.

A mound of water piles up below the eye which is unleashed as the storm reaches land.
These storm surges can cause more damage from flooding than the winds.

“Urgent warning about the rapid rise of water on the SW FL coast with the passage of #Irma’s eye. MOVE AWAY FROM THE WATER!”
Tweet from the National Hurricane Center

The size of hurricanes is mainly measured by the Saffir-Simpson scale – other scales are used in Asia Pacific and Australia.

Winds 119-153km/h
Some minor flooding, little structural damage.
Storm surge +1.2m-1.5m

Winds 154-177km/h
Roofs and trees could be damaged.
Storm surge +1.8m-2.4m

Winds 178-208km/h
Houses suffer damage, severe flooding
Storm surge +2.7m-3.7m

Hurricane Sandy (2012) caused $71bn damage in the Caribbean and New York

Winds 209-251km/h
Some roofs destroyed and major structural damage to houses.
Storm surge +4m-5.5m

Hurricane Ike (2008) hit Caribbean islands and Louisiana and was blamed for at least 195 deaths

Winds 252km/h+
Serious damage to buildings, severe flooding further inland.
Storm surge +5.5m

Hurricane Irma (2017) caused devastation in Caribbean islands, leaving thousands homeless

“For everyone thinking they can ride this storm out, I have news for you: that will be one of the biggest mistakes you can make in your life.”
Mayor of New Orleans Ray Nagin ahead of Hurricane Gustav, 2008

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