Hurricane Florence threatens US coast with 'vicious' winds, floods

People buy supplies at The Home Depot in Wilmington North Carolina as Florence closed in on North and South Carolina

People buy supplies at The Home Depot in Wilmington North Carolina as Florence closed in on North and South Carolina

Updated NHC forecasts showed the storm lingering near the coast, bringing days of heavy rains that could bring intense inland flooding from SC, where some areas could see as much as 40 inches (1m) of rain, to Virginia.

The governors of North Carolina and Virginia have announced mandatory evacuations of hundreds of thousands more in their states.

On the heels of the most expensive hurricane season ever, the approaching storm raises the questions: What role is climate change playing - and could technology offset these growing dangers? Sure enough, in future years it finds more storms that strengthen by more than 72kph in 24 hours, as Hurricane Florence did, and even a number of rare and super-extreme storms that intensify by more than 185kph in 24 hours.

The slow movement, combined with the massive amount of moisture this storm holds, will bring risky rains - from 20 to 30 inches in coastal North Carolina, with 40 inches possible in isolated areas, the weather service says. But as he stands out on Wrightsville Beach this week to tell the world about the incoming hurricane, he's not holding back because he knows lives depend on him.

When it reaches the coastline, it could sit around for days, unloading life-threatening storm surge, unsafe winds and flooding rain. "However, if the storm does stall, it could drop 10-20" of rain, leading to flooding well inland.

This should only amplify rainfall totals as the storm's core remains offshore, with access to warm Atlantic waters to regenerate rain-making bands of precipitation. The storm is now about 950 miles from the Carolina coast line, but moving in that direction at about 15 mph.

The storm was around 400 miles south of Bermuda on Tuesday afternoon and is trudging towards the east coast at 16mph.

While some in coastal North Carolina said they planned to stay put despite hurricane watches and warnings that include the homes of more than 5.4 million people on the East Coast, many weren't taking any chances.

The storm taking aim at the Carolinas is likely to bring "life-threatening, catastrophic flash flooding and significant river flooding" when it sweeps in on Thursday and Friday, the National Weather Service (NWS) said.

Liz Browning Fox was planning to ride out the storm on the Outer Banks, defying evacuation orders.

Even with some weakening that's predicted just before it makes landfall, the storm "is expected to remain a risky major hurricane as it approaches the coastline", the hurricane center said.

Interested in Hurricane Florence?

Florence is one of the strongest hurricanes on the eastern seaboard in decades, and will bring a triple threat of unsafe storm surge, flooding and hurricane-force winds in parts of the Carolinas and Mid-Atlantic states.

Florence's centre was expected to move over the Atlantic Ocean between the Bahamas and Bermuda on Tuesday and Wednesday before approaching North and SC on Thursday.

But the slowing also means the bands of the heaviest rain that swirl around the hurricane are likely to do what meteorologists call training, a phenomenon where rain bands pass over one location repeatedly.

The last time the USA capital declared a state of emergency was in January 2016 when a winter storm dubbed "Snowzilla" blanketed the capital region in knee-deep snow.

Normally, when hurricanes get above 30 degrees North in latitude, they get pulled poleward by the westerly pattern in the atmosphere between the tropics and poles. He said the government is prepared for the storm. "That radius extends out much farther than hurricane-force winds do", Wagstaffe said.

As for what this region could see from the storm, Cantore said it is still hard to pin down exactly what to expect. Duke Energy spokesman Ryan Mosier said operators would begin shutting down nuclear plants at least two hours before hurricane-force winds arrive. "We are ready for the big one that is coming!"

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