Tropical Tracker photo via WINK News weather

Three hurricanes share the Atlantic; Florence to hit the Carolinas

Hurricane Florence rapidly intensified into a fearsome Category 4 storm on Monday and could strike a direct and dangerous blow to the Carolinas later this week, forecasters said. Hours later, South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster ordered an evacuation of the state’s entire coastline starting at noon on Tuesday.

McMaster said storm surge could reach as high as 10 feet and estimated that a million residents would be leaving the coast. The storm’s first impacts were already being seen Monday on barrier islands as dangerous rip currents and seawater flowing over a coastal road.

Florence had reached Category 3 strength earlier Monday, but data from hurricane hunter aircraft indicated the storm was quickly getting stronger as it moved over warm Atlantic waters. By 12 p.m. EDT, Florence became a potentially catastrophic hurricane, with top sustained winds of 130 mph.

The storm was centered about 1,230 miles east-southeast of Cape Fear, North Carolina, and moving west at 13 mph. Forecasters said the hurricane’s strength was expected to fluctuate but it still will be a dangerous storm by the time it reaches the coast of South Carolina or North Carolina on Thursday.

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. Lining up behind Florence, Isaac was about 1,150 miles east of the Windward Islands with top winds of 75 mph late Monday morning, moving west at 14 mph.

Isaac’s forward movement was accelerating on a path to cross into the lower Caribbean on Thursday. Helene, meanwhile, was still in the Atlantic’s spawning ground for hurricanes off the coast of Africa, swirling with 105 mph winds and forecast to become a major hurricane, about 375 miles west of the Cabo Verde islands.

It’s too early to know the exact path of Florence, but forecasters said it could blow ashore along a stretch of the U.S. East Coast that experts have already identified as the most vulnerable to rising sea levels due to climate change.

People in Wilmington, North Carolina, were stocking up on water, plywood and generators to prepare for the storm, CBS News correspondent David Begnaud reports. Some store shelves were already empty.

Florence could be the first major hurricane to slam North Carolina dead-on since Fran hit as a Category 3 in 1996. Fran toppled homes and businesses across the state.

Fran caused more than $8 billion in damage. Thirty-seven people were killed.

“These storms are catastrophic events,” said Andrew Wunderley, who works for a water-conservation group in South Carolina. He said the low-lying cities on the coast are particularly vulnerable to flooding.

“I think what we found is that we’re not really that prepared for these events,” Wunderley said. In October 2015, a storm system caused 36 dams to fail across South Carolina, resulting in what was called a “thousand-year flood.”

At least 25 people died. If Florence ends up stalling after it makes landfall in the southeastern U.S., the fear is that could happen again.

“What that means is not only do we have a serious, 130 mph potential wind threat at landfall along with catastrophic storm surge, but also a very large inland flood threat that could include two feet of rain in certain spots including inland North Carolina’s most populous cities,” CBS News meteorologist David Parkinson said late Sunday. “The most important takeaway out of the storm is that this will not be a quick hitting major storm but a long duration one. We will likely be talking about this actively raining at this time next week. Pace yourselves. It’s gonna be a long one.”

Up and down the densely populated coast, residents were told to prepare. On North Carolina’s Outer Banks, Dawn Farrow Taylor, 50, was gathering photos and important documents and filling prescriptions Monday before heading inland.

She grew up on the shore, and says this will be only the second time she’s evacuated. Since reliable record-keeping began more than 150 years ago, North Carolina has only been hit by one Category 4 hurricane: Hazel, with 130 mph winds in 1954.

“I don’t think many of us have ever been through a Category 4. And out here we’re so fragile. We’re just a strip of land — we’re a barrier island. … Already we’re getting some overwash, the ocean is coming over 12,” she said, referring to the islands’ main road.

The governors of North and South Carolina and Virginia declared states of emergency far ahead of the approaching storm. Navy ships off Virginia’s coast were preparing to sail out of the path and a North Carolina university has already canceled classes.

Red flags have already been flying on beaches, warning swimmers to stay out of the water as seas began kicking up. In Florida, a 64-year-old man drowned off New Smyrna Beach in the rough surf, CBS affiliate WKMG-TV reports.

People rushed to get emergency kits ready, map out escape routes, fill sandbags and secure their homes.

“Pretend, assume, presume that a major hurricane is going to hit right smack dab in the middle of South Carolina and is going to go way inshore,” McMaster said. The state’s emergency management agency said it is “preparing for the possibility of a large-scale disaster.”

In coastal Charleston, South Carolina, city officials offered sandbags to residents. Myrtle Beach Mayor Brenda Bethune urged people to secure their homes but said it was too early to know if evacuations will be ordered.

Myrtle Beach hardware stores and supermarkets were busy ringing up sales of bottled water, plywood and generators. “Literally, they are filling buggies full of water, shopping carts full of water,” Ryan Deeck, grocery department manager at a Walmart, told The Sun News. “They’re coming in and buying water and plates, and that’s about all they’re buying.”

North Carolina crews were getting bulldozers and chain saws ready. In Jacksonville, North Carolina, about 20 miles inland, some residents picked up hurricane supplies during their normal weekend shopping, The Daily News reported.

Ilija Cesal told the newspaper he wouldn’t worry about buying extra water or other supplies for a few more days. “I’ll see by Wednesday how that goes – we got over 48 hours before that happens,” Cesal said.

The University of North Carolina at Wilmington, near the shore, canceled its upcoming alumni weekend and all classes starting at noon Monday, encouraging its students to leave campus for a safer location. In southeast Virginia, Naval Station Norfolk told motorists not to leave their vehicles at the sprawling base later this week because of the flood threat.

The Navy planned to send ships from the Hampton Roads area of Virginia out to sea. Florida-based Carnival Cruise Line was re-routing its cruise ships.

In Mississippi, a “Make America Great Again” rally scheduled for Friday in Jackson was canceled, President Trump’s re-election campaign announced on Monday. “With Hurricane Florence on its way, we determined that this is the safest decision,” campaign Chief Operating Officer Michael Glassner said in a statement.

Author: CBS News