NASA

Hurricane Florence Could Be the Worst Storm to Ever Hit North of Florida

Since records began, only 10 major hurricanes have made landfall around the Carolinas. This one has the potential to blow them all out of the water.

As Hurricane Florence continues its charge toward the southeastern coast of the United States, it now almost certainly will make landfall in North or South Carolina on Thursday. As of 5 p.m. Monday, Florence’s maximum sustained winds had approached 140 miles an hour. The most recent update from the National Hurricane Center said that Florence is expected to strengthen even further, and to retain its status as an “extremely dangerous major hurricane” through Thursday.

If Florence strikes North Carolina at its current classification, Category 4, it would be only the third to do so in recorded history, and the first to do so this early in the Atlantic hurricane season, which runs from the beginning of June to the end of November. It would be the 11th major hurricane to make landfall along the southeastern Atlantic coast, excluding Florida.

Experts weren’t ready to rule out the possibility that Florence could even make landfall as a Category 5 hurricane, a feat never achieved by any recorded storm in the region. Dennis Feltgen, a spokesperson for the National Hurricane Center in Miami, says that reaching Category 5 is “certainly a possibility.” If Florence doesn’t undergo a phenomenon known as an eyewall replacement cycle, which would weaken the storm, it has a chance of reaching the 157-mph boundary line and making history, Feltgen says.

According to Chip Konrad, the director of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Southeast Regional Climate Center and an assistant professor of geography at the University of North Carolina, Florence’s historic winds are a “huge threat” to the region, especially in areas that lie farther inland, where trees and infrastructure are less accustomed to violent gusts.

In terms of lives lost, though, the biggest danger from Florence is more likely to come from flooding than high winds, Konrad said. Although Florence is clipping along at a steady 13 miles per hour through the Atlantic, it’s forecast to hit the brakes once it moves farther inland. That’s thanks to high-pressure air bands to the north and east of the storm that will prevent it from taking the usual hurricane track off the eastern seaboard. Konrad called the atmospheric setup “unusual” and “extreme.” While Florence is parked, it could unload up to 32 inches of rain onto parts of North Carolina and Virginia, which usually only see around 40 to 50 inches in a given year.

This halt-and-downpour scenario is reminiscent of what Houston faced last summer, and a pattern that will only get more likely as the world warms. During Hurricane Harvey, urban sprawl and an abundance of impermeable ground cover made it difficult for the torrential downpour, once dumped, to exit the city. In the Southeast, according to Konrad, steep hillsides and already waterlogged soil will similarly fail to absorb much of the rain Florence will bring.

But the Southeast’s more rugged terrain is likely to produce much different consequences than Houston suffered. “Flash floods are the real danger here,” Konrad told me, as opposed to pooling. All the excess water that doesn’t find its way into the ground will be sent quickly into valleys and ravines. That will likely mean sudden, dramatic flooding downstream, along with landslides.

If Florence makes it to the Appalachian Mountains, Konrad said, things will likely get even worse: The topography will force the storm’s clouds upward, resulting in an effect called orographic lift that will wring even more precipitation from the storm. It’s the same effect that makes the western flanks of the Rocky Mountains so wet, and dumps feet upon feet of snow along the Great Lakes’ eastern shores.

According to Konrad, Florence “has the potential to be the most destructive hurricane we’ve had in modern history for this region.” Feltgen, the National Hurricane Center spokesperson, said juxtaposing Florence with past storms would be a “fatal mistake,” because it could lead those in its path to underestimate the danger. But if the worst comes to pass, Florence may become the region’s standard of comparison for years to come.

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.