Florence rapidly strengthened into a potentially catastrophic Category 4 hurricane Monday as it closed in on North and SC, carrying winds and water that could wreak havoc over a wide stretch of the eastern United States later this week.
As expected, Tropical Storm Florence was upgraded to a category 1 hurricane Sunday morning by the National Hurricane Center.
Florence, the first major hurricane to threaten the eastern United States this year, was forecast to hit the coast of North Carolina or SC on Thursday.
The NHC said Sunday Florence has the potential to be a major, unsafe storm.
The coast can expect tropical storm-force winds as early as Wednesday night and likely Thursday morning, with the highest probability of winds in the Carolinas.
At 5 a.m. Monday, the eye of Hurricane Florence was located near latitude 26.4 North, longitude 61.1 West.
The current forecast track predicts that Florence will approach the southeast USA coast on Thursday. Of the five major models we use for tracking hurricanes-the European, GFS, UKMET, HWRF, and HMON-the best-case scenario from their 0Z Sunday runs was given by the UKMET model, which was the only model to predict that Florence would miss making landfall on the U.S. East Coast this week. These swells will result in life-threatening surf and rip currents.
Hurricane Florence on Sunday had winds moving at 75 mph, and was 750 miles southeast of Bermuda, moving west at 6 mph. "Presume that a major hurricane is going to hit right smack dab in the middle of SC".
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Helene - now just southeast of the Cabo Verde islands off the African coast - had winds of 85 miles per hour, and was expected to turn northwest and then north into the open Atlantic by midweek, the NHC said.
Experts have warned for years of the danger hurricanes pose to a region stretching from Virginia Beach at the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay to Charleston, South Carolina, where the land is sinking and the ocean is rising at some of the highest rates on the East Coast.
Meteorologists with the National Weather Service said a landfall likely cannot be pinpointed for another 36 to 48 hours, but computer models and other indicators are lining up for a hit between the state line and Wilmington, but the storm could still hit anywhere from Savannah to Virginia.
Landfall could be made between SC and North Carolina on Thursday, according to NHC predictions. Certain areas of Brunswick, Currituck, Dare, Hyde, New Hanover, and Onslow counties are affected, and more orders are expected Tuesday.
The hurricane center's description of a Category 4 hurricane begins with "catastrophic damage will occur". Some 27 percent of the deaths have come from rain-driven flooding, sometimes hundreds of miles inland. By Monday morning, the hurricane center classified Florence as a "major" Category 3 hurricane, with sustained winds of at least 111 miles per hour.
Hurricanes Isaac, which could hit Caribbean islands, and Helene, much farther out to sea, lined up behind Florence as the 2018 Atlantic season reached its peak.
According to the National Hurricane Center, this general motion with an increase in forward speed is expected during the next couple of days. As NPR's Bill Chappell reported, the town of Mountain View on the Big Island recorded 51.53 inches of rain as a result of Lane, the third-highest total ever measured from a USA storm. Major hurricanes have winds of at least 111 miles per hour (179 kph). Helene is still a Tropical Storm. Florence has been moving more toward the west and slightly northwest, potentially making direct landfall coming in from the east.
Isaac is moving toward the west near 14 miles per hour. The storm was moving west at 14 mph (22 kmh) and expected to accelerate over the next 36 hours. Weakening is forecast to begin by the middle of the week as Isaac approaches the Lesser Antilles.