Florence (left), followed by Isaac and Helene. Image from Colorado State University

The news on Hurricane Florence isn’t good.

Upgraded today to a Category 4 hurricane, Florence is expected to grow as it heads toward the North Carolina coast (it’s aiming right at Wilmington) with the possibility of doing “devastating damage” when it hits.

Unfortunately, a direct hit on Wilmington could mean damaging winds and even more damaging floods in Lee County and Central North Carolina. The following is everything we know about Florence and our area’s preparations for this potentially historic storm.


When it will hit

The National Hurricane Center predicts Florence will hit the shore late Thursday night or early Friday morning. Our area will wake up Thursday to strong wind gusts and likely some rain. According to Lee County Emergency Management Director Shane Seagroves, “Florence is approximately 500 miles wide, which makes it as wide as North Carolina from east to west. There is an increasing risk of two primary life-threatening impacts from Florence: wind damage and prolonged heavy rainfall.” While the “damage” from Florence locally could start as early as Thursday morning, the eye of the storm won’t cross Lee County until Friday night.


How strong will it be?

The Weather Channel’s Su Ostro tweeted this out last night: “For historical perspective, only four Category 4 landfalls on the East Coast north of Florida … going back to 1851, the farthest north being on the SC/NC border (Hazel).” In other words, this storm has “once-in-a-lifetime” potential. The National Weather Service forecasts Florence making landfall as a Category 4 storm. For us, there will be an 80- to 90-percent chance of sustained tropical storm force winds (40 mph or stronger for gusts of at least a minute).  It’s safe to say, we’re going to feel this one.


How much rain?

The National Hurricane Center stated today: “Life-threatening freshwater flooding is likely from a prolonged and exceptionally heavy rainfall event, which may extend inland over the Carolina and Mid-Atlantic for hundreds of miles as Florence is expected to slow down as it approaches the coast and moves inland.” CBS Charlotte’s graphic above has counties in an around Wake getting between 8 and 9 inches of rain — as we witnessed with Hurricane Harvey in Houston last year, a slow-moving or stalling storm presents the biggest danger to inland areas than the wind.

This from Forbes: NOAA’s Weather Prediction Center is projected 15 to 20 inches of rainfall for some parts of the area. Much of this area already has saturated soil. This means an inland flooding threat, which can often be potentially deadly in the short and long term. It also means the potential for falling trees, a hidden danger often associated with landfalling storms. In Hurricane Sandy, 19% of the 106 deaths were from falling trees. Other reasons, from the analysis at this link, for fatalities in that storm include drowning (37%), falls (11%), carbon monoxide (8%), illness (6%), fire (5%), auto accident (4%), and other (10%). As we have learned with Hurricane Maria or Harvey, fatalities can be immediate or over time with storms of this magnitude. By the way, if the storm stalls as some models project, the aforementioned rainfall totals could be a “low” estimate.


Lee, Harnett Counties

See the white-dotted area in the map above? That’s the “cone of uncertainty” for Hurricane Florence — as of last night … it’s become more certain since. What that cone tells us is this — we’re right in the middle of it, according to just about every model out there. If it hits to the south, we’re still getting those big winds.

Lee County Government, the City of Sanford and Lee County Emergency Management Services have been active on social media since Sunday to warn the general public of what’s coming and provide tips to prepare for the worst. Already, local grocery stores are having trouble keeping bottled water and bread on the shelves. If you’ve waiting until today to do your pre-hurricane preparation shopping, you might already be too late.

Neither Lee County nor Harnett County schools have made an announcement regarding closing (as of 2 p.m. Monday). Harnett County Schools did post to social media today that it is monitoring the situation (meaning an announcement of some kind is expected soon). Campbell University expects an announcement at 2 p.m. on Tuesday.

UPDATE: 3:30 p.m. Monday from Lee County Schools: We have been monitoring Hurricane Florence since the end of last week and have been in constant communication with the Sheriff, the County Manager, and emergency management officials. As we move towards making a decision about school closings, we will factor in their expert opinions, as well as advice from the Raleigh office of the National Weather Service. The safety of our students and staff is our number one priority, and any decisions made will be with their best interest in mind. We plan to make a decision about the schedule by lunchtime tomorrow.


Lee County High School football will move its game against West Carteret this week to 6 p.m. Wednesday. Southern Lee’s scheduled football game at Clinton has been moved to Sept. 27. No other local sports have publicly announced cancellations or rescheduled games.


The Rant will post another Hurricane Florence update on Tuesday and will post breaking news or other important updates as they are announced throughout the week.

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