Update (5 pm ET): South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster ordered an estimated 1 million people to evacuate from coastal areas of his state as Florence strengthened to a Category 4 storm. While Florence isn't expected to make landfall until Thursday or Friday, hurricane-force winds of 130 mph or more will start whipping up a deadly storm surge late Wednesday. The evacuation order follows a similar order issued by North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper, who ordered an estimated 250,000 residents and visitors to begin evacuating the Outer Banks barrier islands.
As of noon ET, Florence was about 1,170 miles east-southeast of Cape Fear, North Carolina. Cooper said he has asked President Trump to declare a federal state of emergency for his state. Trump, for his part, tweeted that the federal government is already "mobilizing its assets."
To the incredible citizens of North Carolina, South Carolina and the entire East Coast - the storm looks very bad! Please take all necessary precautions. We have already began mobilizing our assets to respond accordingly, and we are here for you! pic.twitter.com/g74cyD6b6K— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 10, 2018
Of course, Florence isn't the only storm headed for the eastern seaboard. At least three other storms (Hurricanes Isaac and Helen), as well as a tropical storm forming on the horizon.
Elsewhere, Hurricane Olivia is forming in the Pacific. As Reuters reminds us, a staggering 90% of hurricane- or tropical storm-related fatalities are caused by water.
Historically, 90 percent of fatalities from hurricanes, tropical storms and tropical depressions have been caused by water, said NHC spokesman Dennis Feltgen said. Some 27 percent of the deaths have come from rain-driven flooding, sometimes hundreds of miles inland.
By Monday, a pervasive sense of panic had already taken hold. Residents along the North Carolina coastline could be seen boarding up homes.
In Holden Beach, North Carolina, in the storm’s path, longtime residents could be seen boarding up homes and securing possessions.
"It’s scary to all of us. We know we can’t play around with this," said Jennifer Oosterwyk, who owns the Sugar Britches boutique on Holden Beach and lives in nearby Wilmington.
Oosterwyk was gathering tax documents and other important papers from her store on Monday, and said she planned to drive 150 miles (240 km) inland to ride out the storm in Cary.
As the storm advanced, Monday afternoon was a postcard-perfect day on Holden Beach with bright blue skies, placid puffy clouds and light breezes. By 2 p.m. EDT, the surf that had been calm began to show some chop.
In preparation for the storm, the military is sending an advance team to Raleigh, NC.
The U.S. military said it was sending an advanced team to Raleigh, North Carolina, to coordinate with federal and state partners and that about 750 military personnel will be designated to provide support.
The U.S. Navy said it was sending nearly 30 ships from coastal Virginia out to sea to avoid damage.
Meanwhile, Bloomberg reports that the storm is sowing chaos in the local tourism industry due to its unusual westward path, which could push it close to Charleston, which is well within the "cone of uncertainty," per NHC data. According to the latest estimates from disaster analysts, total losses due to the storm could total close to $27 billion.
Florence could be especially devastating for the tourism business in the Carolinas because of its unusual westward path. The hurricane is expected to reach land on Friday somewhere between Charleston and Norfolk, Virginia, according to the National Hurricane Center, which warned of life-threatening storm surges along the coast and freshwater flooding that could extend for hundreds of miles.
Total losses could reach $27 billion, said Chuck Watson, a disaster modeler with Enki Research in Savannah, Georgia. That would make it the eighth-costliest storm in U.S. history.
With everything from vacation rentals in the Outer Banks of North Carolina to the luxury hotels in historic Charleston in its path, the storm would wreak havoc on an industry that employs about 10 percent of all workers across the two states. South Carolina’s tourism business generates more than $21 billion in annual sales, according to the state’s department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism. In North Carolina, the industry brings in about $24 billion, according to the state’s Restaurant and Lodging Association.
At the King Charles Inn in Charleston, General Manager Maureen Sheridan skipped a planned day off to start implementing emergency plans, making sure her managers had accurate contact information for employees and beginning the process of moving computer hard drives and perishable goods away from the ground floor. Then she’ll hunker down in the hotel to weather the storm and make sure that her staff is ready to take in guests escaping lower-lying parts of the city.
While the staff is telling guests that the city is still in the "cone of uncertainty" with respect to the storm’s impact, it’s likely that the hotel will remain open.
"I’ve been here 11 years," Sheridan said, "and we’ve never closed because of a hurricane."
While some businesses scrambled to cancel conferences and other activities in South and North Carolina, locals desperate to escape the storm flooded inland hotels with bookings.
"You have existing business on your books that cancels because they can’t get here," said Mike Martino, general manager of the Durham Sheraton. "And then you have people from the coast attempting to book rooms. It’s a crazy time period."
As the storm draws closer, it's likely that more evacuation orders will be issued.
* * *
The latest report from the National Hurricane Center (NHC) indicates that Hurricane Florence is on the verge of becoming a monster storm, which strengthened rapidly overnight as it continued to gain strength over the Atlantic, 625 miles southeast of Bermuda.
Florence had maximum sustained winds of more than 130 mph and was moving west-northwest at 13 mph as it strengthened to a Category 4 hurricane, the NHC said. An increase in maximum sustained wind speed is expected over the next several days, as government officials from the Carolinas to the Mid-Atlantic on Monday were preparing for a direct hit later this week.
“Rapid strengthening is forecast, and Florence is forecast to become a major hurricane this morning and is expected to remain an extremely dangerous major hurricane through Thursday,” the NHC said.
9/10 11 AM EDT: The earliest reasonable time that tropical-storm-force winds will reach the coast of the Carolinas is Wednesday night, but the most likely time is Thursday morning. #Florence https://t.co/tW4KeGdBFb pic.twitter.com/kzKpHv9o6J— National Hurricane Center (@NHC_Atlantic) September 10, 2018
NEW: Florence is now a category 4 hurricane. Data from a NOAA Hurricane Hunter indicate that Florence has continued to rapidly strengthen and has maximum sustained winds near 130 mph (195 km/h) and a minimum central pressure of 946 mb (27.93 inches) https://t.co/tW4KeGdBFb pic.twitter.com/wfLt6fJPl2— National Hurricane Center (@NHC_Atlantic) September 10, 2018
Over the weekend, South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster declared a state of emergency in anticipation of a direct hit. The declaration allows the state to use the National Guard for preparations and to aid in search and recovery operations in the aftermath. North Carolina and Virginia have taken similar measures.
Hurricane #Florence update— NC Emergency Managem (@NCEmergency) September 10, 2018
• Increasing risk of life-threatening impacts: storm surge at coast, flooding inland
• Dangerous winds could down trees & cause power outages
• Landfall may be Thurs. If slows after landfall may cause heavier rain & winds.
Stay tuned for #ncwx pic.twitter.com/YIN6OLA1KC
Chuck Watson, a disaster researcher at Enki Research in Savannah, Georgia, told Bloomberg that the northern coast of South Carolina and the Outer Banks of North Carolina are likely to be the areas most impacted by the storm, which could cause $15.32 billion in damage if it stays on its current trajectory.
Watson said the Gulf Stream is driving warm water past Cape Hatteras, which could create a “nightmare scenario” that could lead to as much as $25 billion in damages.
“Somebody is going to suffer devastating damage if this storm continues as it is currently forecast,” Dan Miller, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Columbia, told The State newspaper.
Meteoroglists have said it is still too early to predict Florence's path exactly but warned that many computer models point to a direct hit in the Carolinas by Thursday.
Hurricane Florence Model Track Guidance
What are meteorologists tweeting?
"The leftward solution from the most reliable ECMWF model for Hurricane Florence is centered just south of SC|NC border. The actual landfall point will matter but large size of storm means coast from Charleston, SC to NC Outer Banks should prepare for hurricane conditions," said Ryan Maue, meteorologist @weatherdotus.
The landfall location of Hurricane #Florence is still uncertain to 100-200 miles. Complicating will be very SLOW movement Thurs-Fri exacerbating extreme rainfall.— Ryan Maue | weathermodels.com (@RyanMaue) September 10, 2018
GFS model (reliable thru 5-days) is a rightward solution over NC.
(GIF: https://t.co/XcmEbEJxko) pic.twitter.com/uUN2E85SYu
"Florence is heading for the Carolinas. Florence will likely be a major hurricane. This is happening folks. If you or anyone you know is in the path of this storm, preparations need to be completely finished by Wednesday," said Ed Valle, meteorologist Vallee Wx Consulting.
#Florence is heading for the Carolinas. Florence will likely be a major hurricane. This is happening folks. If you or anyone you know is in the path of this storm, preparations need to be completely finished by Wednesday. pic.twitter.com/VX2xVJy9eJ— Ed Vallee 🌽 Vallee Wx Consulting 🌾 (@EdValleeWx) September 10, 2018
"Hurricane Florence is still on track to make landfall in North Carolina on Thursday as a Category 4 -- becoming the strongest hurricane to ever make landfall north of South Carolina," said meteorologist Eric Holthaus.
OK you guys, my intention is not to scare anyone with this message.— Eric Holthaus (@EricHolthaus) September 10, 2018
But Hurricane #Florence—the storm bound for North Carolina—is going to be about the size of North Carolina when it arrives.
This is what it will look like, according to the latest high-res model prediction: pic.twitter.com/B8vCm3FDi6
As shown above, the spaghetti model projections are unanimously showing the storm will be unusually intense and slow-moving — two attributes that indicate its destructive potential, said Axios. While Florence is a Category 2 storm Monday morning, forecasters expect the storm to rapidly intensify to a Category 4 or possibly even Category 5 hurricane as it moves toward the East Coast.
Hurricane Florence may end up being the worst natural disaster in recorded history for the Carolinas and Virginia. 3 to 4 feet of rain, IF predictions hold! BIG news week developing...— MATT DRUDGE (@DRUDGE) September 10, 2018
"This storm will bring a wide array of hazards to the East Coast, and residents of the Carolinas and mid-Atlantic region, including the Washington, D.C., area, are being urged to prepare for a potentially life-threatening event featuring damaging winds that could last for a long duration along with coastal and inland flooding. Florence has the potential to be a large hurricane, with impacts felt hundreds of miles from the landfall location," said Axios.
Two other hurricanes are in the Atlantic Basin and will need to be closely monitored this week. According to Philip Klotzbach (Colorado State University), as per Meteorologist Paul Dorian Perspecta, Inc., this is the 11th year on record that the Atlantic Ocean has had 3+ hurricanes simultaneously (Other years were 1893, 1926, 1950, 1961, 1967, 1980, 1995, 1998, 2010, and 2017).
Florence could very well be the "worst natural disaster in recorded history for Carolinas and Virginia," as many Trump supporters hope the storm shifts a tad north into Washington, D.C. and if not drains the swamp, then at least floods it.