UPDATE: Sept 18, 2018: Wilmington, North Carolina, the coastal city which Florence had turned into a virtual island, is finally getting relief supplies. Amidst news that the storm's death count has risen to 32, Wilmington's struggles with Florence have become emblematic of a region struggling with the onslaught of rain and flooding.
The death count now spans three states: 25 deaths from North Carolina, 6 in South Carolina, and on Monday a tragic death in Virginia, when tornadoes brought on by Florence after his workplace collapsed.
Early data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has shown that Florence has delivered the fourth-highest rainfall of any hurricane to hit the mainland United States since 1950, with 35.94 inches (91.2 centimeters) at Elizabethtown, North Carolina.
In Wilmington, that rain has resulted in an entire town being cut off from the outside world. Flooding left the roads inoperable while storms made ports and planes useless. Supplies, including the fuel needed to run the water treatment plant in the town, had been dwindling.
But on Monday, emergency FEMA crews were finally able to break through with food and water. Officials were able to open a single road without knowing if the path would stay open or become lost to the Cape Fear River's flooding. But soon enough, lines of cars were filling up blocks to wait for bottles of water and meals ready-to-eat (MREs). Members of the National Guard were also present to keep order.
“Running low and still waiting on gas and ice,” said Linda Simpson of Wilmington, speaking to the local . “We are thankful for the food blessing and we’re still alive -- thank God.”
The chairman of New Hanover County’s commissioners, Woody White, who had previously warned that people should "not come" to Wilmington, echoed Simpson's sentiments. “Things are getting better slowly, and we thank God for that,” he the press.
Flooding concerns have proven to be particularly heightened in areas meant for storing waste. Hog waste lagoons, meant to capture pig excrement from pig processing plants are a source of worry. There are around 4,000 such lagoons in North Carolina, one of the biggest pig farming states in the country. One site, which contains 300,000 cubic yards of waste, by the state's Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) as a “total loss."
The Duke Energy Corp. coal ash landfill near Wilmington known as the Sutton Power Plant site has suffered further damage. The Sutton location first made national news when that a slope had collapsed at 1 of 4 lined landfill cells being being built to store coal ash, which contains mercury, arsenic, and lead, removed from on-site basins. At least 2,000 cubic yards of ash disappeared in the slope collapse.
Now, with further damage, officials from the Environmental Protection Agency how much toxic material has leaked. Officials from Duke Energy say the new damage is a continuation from the previous slope collapse and that no toxic material has reached the Cape Fear River.
As Florence leaves a destructive legacy in the south, it has slowly been moving north. Flash flood warnings as the storm still has winds of around 25 mph and rain to spare. Meteorologists are predicting that northeastern states can expect 4 inches of rain before Florence finally, finally, moves offshore again.
UPDATE: Sept 17, 2018: The storm known as Florence spent the weekend wreaking havoc on the Carolinas. While downgraded from a hurricane to a tropical depression, Florence has killed 18, caused tens of thousands of blackouts, and left coastal cities turned into virtual islands. The rain and flooding aren't done yet.
"The rains of large and slow-moving Florence are still not done falling where it is already a flooding disaster, in many parts of central and eastern North Carolina and northern South Carolina," says Rick Knabb of The Weather Channel, giving a daily update to reporters. "The flooding will next expand today and Monday into western North Carolina and Virginia, including potential landslides in parts of the Appalachians."
The town of Wilmington, North Carolina has been particularly hard hit. Turned into a virtual island by the storm, it for FEMA, energy companies, or anyone else to get in or out of the city. The roads are flooded and the ports and airports are closed. The city is running out of supplies, including fuel for its water-treatment plant. Power, including the internet, is down for much of the city of 117,000.
Of chief concern is the Cape Fear River, which cuts through much of eastern-central North Carolina. Video on Sunday showed the river .
An additional concern is that regarding the state coal ash landfills, which hold the residue of coal power plants from Duke Energy that have been out of service for years. Around 2,000 cubic yards of ash have disappeared from a landfill, worrisome because coal ash contains toxic heavy metals like mercury, arsenic, and lead.
Megan S. Thorpe, spokeswoman for North Carolina's Department of Environmental Quality, said in a that "DEQ has been closely monitoring all coal ash impoundments that could be vulnerable in this record breaking rain event. She added that after assessing the damage, the state will "hold the utility accountable for implementing the solution that ensures the protection of public health and the environment."
The state's coal ash landfills had been by 2029.
The damage in South Carolina has been more varied. While some parts of the state have not felt a drop of Florence, others have felt themselves warped through the rain. Around in South Carolina had been reported.
UPDATE: Sept 14, 2018: Hurricane Florence made landfall at Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina at 7:45 AM. The region now turns it attention to the question of how long Florence will linger.
Landing near the city of Wilmington, the newly-downgraded Category 1 has already forced rescue operations in the town of New Bern, Mayor Dana Outlaw The Charlotte Observer. The National Hurricane Center more than 10 feet of inundation in New Bern.
As of 5 A.M, 200 people have been rescued and officials reported that 150 more were in need of rescue. Mayor Outlaw added that New Bern had "planned for this. We knew it was coming, and we’re working very hard to keep our citizens safe. We were able to evacuate quite a few; some did not go."
A man named Tom Ballance who lived in New Bern called The Weather Channel at 5:30 AM, told the news network that although he had survived every hurricane in the area since the 1950s, Florence presented a worse threat than any he had seen previous. Although Ballance had made it to the second floor of his house and expected to live, he deeply regretted the decision to stay.
“Nobody was expecting this, nobody,” Ballance told The Weather Channel, as per the . “We were fools.”
To the south, both South Carolina and Georgia have been watching Florence's path. While the brunt of the storm is expected to miss Charleston, conditions "will really start to deteriorate overnight" and remain that way through Saturday, says meteorologist Christina Speciale at the National Weather Service office in Charleston, speaking to South Carolina's . More than 32,000 people in South Carolina due to Florence.
Going into the weekend, much of the Carolinas will be under threat of extreme weather conditions. Florence will likely prove catastrophic for many. The website Charity Navigator has created .
UPDATE: Sept 13, 2018: Hurricane Florence has been downgraded to a Category 2 storm. That's a bit of good news as rain starts to fall on the Carolinas.
The bad news: The hurricane remains bigger than North and South Carolina combined as it bears down on the states. The storm is still moving steadily at 17 mph and is expected to make landfall by early tomorrow morning (Friday) at the latest.
The downgrading of Florence from a 4 to a 2 was unexpected. In practical terms, it means the storm's winds will have a maximum speed of "only" 110 mph. The watchword among meteorologists has become impact over speed, stressing that Florence will cause extreme damage through storm surges, rain, and flooding. With the ground full of water, it will take less effort than normal to knock down trees and power lines, and governors in the Carolinas are warning of blackouts lasting potentially for weeks.
"The winds may be down a bit, but the one-two intense punches that we are expecting are still there. This storm surge can be deadly and then the flooding that will come thereafter with rain being measured in feet instead of inches," said North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper, CBS.
The National Hurricane Center (NHC) has declared a storm surge warning through Edison, South Carolina through the North Carolina/Virginia border, such a warning "means there is a possibility of life- threatening inundation, from rising water moving inland from the coastline."
Experts believe that storm surges nine feet high and 40 inches of rainfall could paralyze some areas. And as tropical-storm winds move into much of the Carolinas, widespread rain reaching 6 to 12 inches is expected. There's a strong likelihood that rain could seep into eastern Georgia.
As the hurricane approaches the coast, meteorologists still believe that it will stall over land for an extended period, meandering down the coast at a slow pace which will batter the land and make rescue operations difficult.
UPDATE: Sept 12, 2018: Hurricane Florence's path has changed to the southwest, with meteorologists now predicting that more of South Carolina and North Carolina are in its path. Computers models that areas down the South Carolina coastline as far as Charleston or Savannah, Georgia could be affected by Florence.
The change in path now raises the possibility that Florence will stall out and linger over land as it slowly moves south. Residents of Texas saw the full effects of hurricane stalling last year, when weak prevailing winds Hurricane Harvey back out to sea.
Speaking to PM, Michael Mann, a professor of atmospheric science at Pennsylvania State University, says that "it’s fair to say that we may be seeing this play out again with Florence."
Strong winds are expected to hit the South Carolina and North Carolina coasts tomorrow, making today the last day to fully prepare for Florence's upcoming assault on the region.
“This will likely be the storm of a lifetime for portions of the Carolina coast,” the National Weather Service in Wilmington, N.C., said Tuesday in a , “and that’s saying a lot given the impacts we’ve seen from hurricanes Diana, Hugo, Fran, Bonnie, Floyd, and Matthew.”
Meanwhile, Florence continues its march across the Atlantic at a speed of 17 mph. Speeds within the hurricane remain at 130 mph. Hurricane-force winds have been detected 70 miles from the eye. Tropical storm-force winds are being detected 175 miles from Florence's eye. The power of the storm combined with the change in direction means that some regions of the country might be heading into unknown waters.
“Above all, residents of the coastal and near-coastal Carolinas should keep in mind that Florence is a historic storm," says National Hurricane Center specialist Daniel Brown, speaking to South Carolina's Post and Courier." Its strength, size, and potentially unorthodox track all point to outcomes that may lie outside historical experience."
While some disagreement has emerged between experts on where Florence will exactly land on the Carolina coast, it is still predicted to make landfall late Thursday night or early Friday morning. And it is still predicted to be devastating.
“This one really scares me,” National Hurricane Center Director Ken Graham speaking to the press.
Speaking to the warm waters that have given Florence its terrifying power, Mann tells PopMech that "the near record warmth is a factor in terms of the rapid intensification of the storm and potential for extreme flooding. The likelihood of this anomalous warmth is increased greatly by human-caused warming."
UPDATE: Sept 11, 2018: With winds hitting up to 130 mph, Hurricane Florence has officially been upgraded to a Category 4. It is currently moving west-northwest at a pace of 15 mph as it heads for its predicted landfall in North Carolina.
The National Hurricane Center (NHC), whose predictions about Florence have been accurate so far, now says that the storm will build in size, strength, and speed before it reaches land on Friday.
Florence currently sits around 1,000 miles from Cape Fear, North Carolina. But the Tar Heel State isn't alone in facing danger. The entire Mid-Atlantic region from South Carolina to Washington, D.C will likely be affected by Florence. The NHC a storm surge warning from Edisto Beach, South Carolina to the North Carolina-Virginia border. A storm surge warning indicates that there will be a possibility of life-threatening conditions from rising waters.
“Florence is expected to remain an extremely dangerous hurricane when it approaches the U.S. coastline,” National Hurricane Center specialist Daniel Brown, speaking to South Carolina's Post and Courier. “The hurricane is predicted to meander over the eastern portions of North or South Carolina.”
At its peak scientists say that Florence , bringing it just 7 mph of being classified as a Category 5 hurricane.
Florence's temporary weakening this morning can be attributed to a phenomena known as eye wall replacement. Eye wall replacement is a regular and violent occurrence amidst intense storms, when "a new eye wall or ring of thunderstorms within the outer rain bands forms further out from the storm’s center, outside of the original eye wall," according to . This new ring of thunderstorms starves the original eye of momentum and moisture. The eye wall begins to collapse, temporarily weakening the storm.
If given the chance to complete the cycle, the new ring of thunderstorms will eventually take main stage as the new eye wall. With the new, stronger eye wall in place, the hurricane continues to gain strength.
A prime source of Florence's gaining power have been sea surface temperatures in the western North Atlantic, which have been "running significantly above normal" for the last several weeks. Scientists attribute these warming waters to climate change.
Monday, September 10: The National Hurricane Center (NHC) is now forecasting that Florence will hit North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia as a Category 4 by early Friday morning. The three states a preemptive state of emergency.
Using infrared satellite data, NASA the growing eye of Hurricane Florence yesterday. At that time, Florence was around 610 miles (985 km) miles northeast of the Northern Leeward Islands in the Caribbean. The hurricane's swells are expected to hit Bermuda especially hard.
Florence is currently a Category 2 hurricane, but meteorologists at the NHC are predicting the storm will spend Monday gathering great strength. "There is an increasing risk of life-threatening impacts from Florence," the NHC said in early Monday morning. The NHC suggesting these impacts could stem from a "storm surge at the coast, freshwater flooding from a prolonged and exceptionally heavy rainfall event inland, and damaging hurricane-force winds."
The NHC also stressed that, with a predicted landfall early on September 14, "it is too soon to determine the exact timing, location, and magnitude of these impacts." But it's never too soon to start planning in the event of a hurricane. For those living in areas that will likely be affected by Florence, now is a perfect time to run through hurricane checklists.
If and only if everything is tied down and preparations are set, there's always the option of throwing a hurricane party.
But think carefully before busting out the red solo cups. For a reference point on the power of a Category 4, that was the measured strength of last year's Hurricane Harvey. Both Florence and Harvey have gained speed using the : hotspots and updrafts meeting in the ocean. Observed hurricane activity over the last several decades has shown that the storms are in concert with global warming.
You can follow the National Hurricane Center's tracking of Florence .