Florence now major hurricane, landfall expected for the Carolinas
College Park, MD - Hurricane Florence underwent a rapid intensification Monday morning, strengthening to category 4 intensity with maximum sustained winds of 130 mph.
Computer models placed the forecast track toward the coast of North and South Carolina. Landfall was expected late Thursday night as a category 3 or 4 hurricane, producing maximum sustained winds between 120 to 140 mph and a storm surge of 7-12 feet, in addition to high tide.
High pressure was expected to block Florence over the weekend, stalling the system over the east coast and allowing for heavy rainfall over the mid-Atlantic. Estimated rainfall totals were predicted to range from 10" to 30" or more into the weekend.
Mandatory evacuations were already underway for the Outer Banks of North Carolina and a state of emergency was declared for the states of South Carolina, North Carolina and Virginia.
South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster urged people to take the forecasts seriously, saying in a press conference Sunday, “Pretend, presume and assume that a major hurricane is going to hit smack dab in the middle of South Carolina."
Travel was expected to be impacted by Florence. Airline delays to cancellations were possible from Thursday through Sunday for much of the eastern third of the country.
Tropical storm Gordon and hurricane Florence are two exceptions in an otherwise quiet Atlantic hurricane 2018 season. The reduction in overall activity has been linked to a potentially developing El Nino, which typically increases the wind shear and stability of the atmosphere over the equatorial Atlantic. High shear discourages tropical storm development.
In August, the National Hurricane Center reduced the number of tropical systems expected from 10-16 named storms to 9-14. As of Monday, there have been 10 named storms. An average 6-month hurricane season produces 12 named storms, 6 hurricanes and 3 major hurricanes (category 3 or higher).
September 10 is the historical peak of tropical system activity for the Atlantic basin hurricane season, which traditionally ends November 30.