Hurricane Florence Loses Steam, but Shifting Forecast Predicts Huge Rainfall

Hurricane Florence Loses Steam, but Shifting Forecast Predicts Huge Rainfall

Normally when we talk about the potential for hurricane damage, we talk about the impact of storm surges and high winds — both of which are, to be sure, incredibly dangerous in their own right. But last year’s Hurricane Harvey demonstrated that tremendous damage can be dealt when a storm system sits in place and dumps huge amounts of rain. Now, there are signs that Hurricane Florence could deliver a similar blow to the East Coast beginning on Thursday, making it even more important to evacuate before the storm arrives.

There’s some good news buried in the updated weather forecast. Once projected to make landfall as a Category 4 storm with the potential to reach Category 5, forecasters now believe Flo will hold at least a Category 2 rating as it approaches land. The problem is, Flo is now expected to stall out over the Carolinas before slowly moving inland. Hurricane’s typically lose power relatively quickly once they make landfall, but a stalled-out hurricane can recharge itself from warmer coastal waters while simultaneously dumping huge amounts of water on the already-inundated southeast.

Instead of pushing directly towards states like West Virgina, Kentucky, or Indiana (following a generally northwest track from its initial landfall), Florence may now stall out on top of South Carolina before moving west or southwest towards Georgia, Alabama, and Florida. A high-pressure ridge over the Central and Eastern US is said to be blocking the storm’s further movement along its original vectors, though it could still curve again once over land. The graph below shows how Florence’s forecast changed from Tuesday to Wednesday night:

Shifting hurricane forecasts from Tuesday night (left) to Wednesday (right). Click to enlarge.
Shifting hurricane forecasts from Tuesday night (left) to Wednesday (right). Click to enlarge.

The storm’s possible track now bends farther to the SW and closer to cities like Jacksonville, but it’s the delay and the possible repeat of a Harvey-like storm cycle that has officials and weather forecasters worried. It’s already been raining in these areas and the ground is sodden. It’s not clear yet where the storm will park, but local forecasts have predicted some areas could receive 30-40 inches of rain depending on where the storm sits. Flash floods will be a major problem for some areas, and the overall flooding could be catastrophic.

If you’re in the path of this storm, get out of it. Pack your stuff into the attic and your car, grab the preferred kids, pets, and spouse, and head inland. With the storm expected to “stick” on the high-pressure ridge, moving north, west, or northwest seems to be safest. Harvey was an excellent example of how the rain from a hurricane can be its own tremendous danger, and there’s no point in taking chances.

Stay safe.

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