Extremely Dangerous Hurricane Florence Headed toward the Carolina Coast

Following a very quiet August, the Atlantic season has really ramped up in September with three hurricanes churning across the ocean at the moment: Florence, Helene and Isaac. In addition, in the North Central Pacific, Hurricane Olivia is currently a Category 1 hurricane headed toward Hawaii, although it is forecast to weaken to a tropical storm before impacting the island chain. By far, the biggest immediate concern to the United States is Hurricane Florence, which has rapidly intensified to a Category 4 hurricane with maximum winds of 130 mph.

Florence is currently embedded in an environment conducive for further intensification – with very warm ocean temperatures of ~85°F and very low levels of vertical wind shear (the change in wind direction with height in the atmosphere). A hurricane’s fuel source is warm ocean water, and low shear allows the storm to be able to maintain a strong circulation throughout the atmosphere. Unfortunately, this hurricane-favorable environment looks to continue for the next couple of days as the storm tracks toward the U.S. mainland.

The National Hurricane Center currently predicts that Florence will maintain Category 4 intensity as it heads toward the Carolina coast. Florence is also predicted to grow in terms of its size, which increases the extent of the wind and the storm surge threat. Also, the storm is forecast to slow down once it makes landfall, which raises the potential for significant flooding from heavy rain.

Figure 1: High resolution visible satellite image of Category 4 Hurricane Florence on September 10.  

The storm is predicted to make landfall on Thursday night, and there is still uncertainty as to exactly where the storm will make landfall and exactly how strong it will be. But certainly, the odds of a significant impact along the Carolina coast are now very high. It is important to realize that this will be a large hurricane when it hits the coast, and consequently, its impacts will extend far away from where the center of the storm makes landfall. Given its size and projected track, Florence is likely to have very significant wind, storm surge and flooding impacts. It is imperative to not focus on one particular model forecast but to follow the latest advisories provided by the National Hurricane Center.  

About the Author:
Dr. Phil Klotzbach has received national and international attention for his work in researching weather patterns and forecasting hurricanes. He currently is lead author on Colorado State University's Atlantic basin hurricane forecasts which he releases every year with his colleague Dr. Michael Bell.