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Hurricane Florence: Carolinas On Notice

Projected path of 2018’s first major hurricane looks grim for North and South Carolina …

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When it comes to hurricane scares, we have been to this rodeo before … nervously eyeballing projected paths and “forecast bubbles” for major hurricanes as they approach the east coast of the United States only to watch as these powerful systems unexpectedly change course at the last moment.

News flash: Hurricanes don’t go where meteorologists think they are going to go.  Nor do they do what meteorologists think they are going to do.

They are definitionally unpredictable (as much as some might wish otherwise).

Take Hurricane Florence, the first major tropical system of the 2018 season.  After forming on August 31 near the Cape Verde islands off the coast of Senegal, Florence drifted westward for several days before gaining hurricane strength (i.e. attaining maximum sustained winds of seventy-four miles per hour) on September 4.

The following day, the storm experienced rapid intensification – i.e. gaining sustained wind strength of 35 miles per hour (or more) within a 24-hour period.  Florence saw her sustained winds increase by 46 miles per hour over a 24-hour period – moving from category one to category four status.

In fact, the storm achieved category four status farther northeast than any prior system in record history.

As a result of this rapid intensification, though, Florence was subjected to greater vertical wind shear – which flattened the system, disrupted its upper circulation and caused it to weaken.

As of this writing, Florence has actually weakened into a tropical storm – with maximum sustained winds of 65 miles per hour as of the 5:00 a.m. AST advisory from the National Hurricane Center (NHC) in Miami, Florida.

Here is the NHC’s latest forecast bubble for Florence …

(Click to view)

(Via: NHC)

And courtesy of BoatUS.com, here is its latest projected forecast track …

(Click to view)

(Via: BoatUS)

As you can see, Florence isn’t going to stay weak for long.

By next Tuesday (September 11) the storm is projected to regain major hurricane status as its march toward the northwest continues.  And if current forecast projections hold (again, a big “if”), both North Carolina and South Carolina appear to be very much in the danger zone.

By next Friday (September 14) we could be looking at a category four monster bearing down directly on Myrtle Beach, S.C., the heart of the Palmetto State’s tourism economy.  Also, just behind Florence in the Atlantic are two tropical disturbances identified by the NHC as having a ninety percent or higher chance of developing into cyclones within the next forty-eight hours.

Again, we are still several days away from having a definitive sense of where this system is going to go.  As of this writing, there is no immediate danger to the east coast.  However, if you have plans to visit the area next weekend (September 15-16) you might want to reconsider those arrangements.

Also, if you live in the Palmetto State now would probably be a good time to download the 2018 South Carolina Hurricane Guide (.pdf), published by the S.C. Emergency Management Division (SCEMD).  And if you live in a coastal area, now would probably also be a good time to start familiarizing yourself with evacuation routes and making contingency plans for next weekend in case you need to leave your home.

(Click to view)

(Via: Getty Images)

Until this month, it had been a quiet season in the Atlantic.  Last year there were 17 named storms including ten hurricanes and six major hurricanes.  Three of those storms – HarveyIrma and Maria – did catastrophic damage to America and rewrote the Hurricane record books.

Harvey was the first major hurricane to hit the United States since Wilma in 2005, and is tied with 2005’s Hurricane Katrina as the costliest hurricane to ever hit our mainland.  The storm – which killed 106 Americans – also dumped 60.5 inches of rain on the state of Texas, a new record.

Two weeks later, Irma slammed into the Florida Keys with similar ferocity – then sliced northward through the Sunshine State on a path that ultimately left 92 Americans dead.  It was the first time in recorded history that two storms of such intensity made landfall in the same season.

Days later, Maria decimated Puerto Rico – killing 64 people on the island.  The storm also wiped out the island’s electric grid, leaving 3.4 million of its people without power.

All told, the 2017 hurricane season did a record $282.2 billion worth of damage.  That’s more than $100 billion above the previous record (after adjusting for inflation).

At this late stage of the game, the 2018 season is highly unlikely to even approach last year’s staggering numbers … but that would be small consolation to the Carolinas if a major system plowed through the area.

South Carolina has seen more than two dozen hurricane landfalls since 1893 – the most infamous being Hurricane Hugo, which came ashore just north of Charleston, S.C. as a category three storm in 1989.  Hugo did $10 billion in damage and killed 35 South Carolinians.

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