Florence regained hurricane strength again Sunday and the massive storm could menace the East Coast later this week.
Florence strengthened into a Category 2 hurricane Monday and continued its slow but angry dance toward the U.S. East Coast as residents braced for the worst.
The National Hurricane Center said the storm was expected to continuing growing in strength through the day. The center of Florence was forecast to sweep between Bermuda and the Bahamas Tuesday and Wednesday before making its assault on the southeast coast, now targeting North and South Carolina, sometime Thursday.
“Florence is forecast to become a major hurricane this morning, and is expected to remain an extremely dangerous major hurricane through Thursday,” the hurricane center warned.
The hurricane center warned that the swells are likely to cause “life-threatening” surf and current conditions. On North Carolina’s Outer Banks, Dare County emergency officials warned that rough seas and strong rip currents are already creating dangerous conditions.
“Red, no swimming flags are flying and everyone must stay out of the water,” Dare County Emergency Management Director Drew Pearson said.
Satellite imagery indicated that the maximum sustained winds have increased to near 105 mph with higher gusts. A “major” hurricane is one with sustained winds of more than 110 mph.
Any Category 3, 4, or 5 hurricane is classified as a major hurricane.
AccuWeather meteorologist Brett Rossi said the ground in North and South Carolina and Virginia is already saturated from recent rains. Rivers are high, and the storm will be moving slowly when it arrives, exacerbating the situation, Rossi told USA TODAY.
“This is very scary rain event potentially setting up this week,” Rossi said. “Florence could dump a foot of rain in places that cannot handle it, making for a very scary flooding situation in some areas.”
Some portions of the Carolinas could see as much as 20 inches of rain from Florence, the National Weather Service said, which would lead to river flooding that “could last for days or weeks” after the storm. The Weather Channel warned of a “disastrous” level of flooding for parts of the area.
The hurricane center’s breakdown of storm strength says Category 3 storms can bring “devastating” destruction. Homes can be damaged, trees uprooted and electricity and water can be knocked out for days or weeks, the center warns.
The Navy said all ships in Virginia’s coastal Hampton Roads area were preparing to leave port for open seas Monday. Admiral Christopher Grady said ships can better weather “storms of this magnitude when they are underway.”
South Carolina emergency management officials said they were “preparing for the possibility of a large-scale disaster.”
Virginia, North and South Carolina have declared states of emergency ahead of the storm. Gov. Ralph Northam said the Virginia National Guard, the Virginia State Police and other state agencies have already begun preparations.
“Now is the time for your family also to prepare and stay tuned for more updates,” South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster said. “Plan for the worst, pray for the best.”
Florence is now one of three hurricanes spinning in the Atlantic Ocean, along with Helene and Isaac. While Helene is forecast to slide out to sea away from land, Isaac is a very real threat the the Caribbean later this week, the hurricane center said.
In addition, in the Pacific, what’s now Hurricane Olivia is forecast to approach Hawaii as a tropical storm on Tuesday.
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