Everyone along the coasts of the Southeast and mid-Atlantic U.S. are now on alert for a potential strike from Category 4 Hurricane Florence later this week. Those in North Carolina and Virginia and the most vulnerable due the storm’s forecast path.
AccuWeather is already estimating that the financial toll from Hurricane Florence could reach $30 billion, due to the extensive damage and flooding anticipated.
Currently, most of the spaghetti models have Hurricane Florence making landfall between Hatteras Island in the Outer Banks and Wilmington, North Carolina.
As of now, the maximum-sustained winds emanating from the hurricane are approximately 130 miles per hour. However, as the storm seeks to strengthen by tomorrow morning, gathering energy in the Atlantic Ocean that harbors near-coast water temperatures of at least 86 degrees Fahrenheit, many are predicting the storm will have maximum-sustained winds upwards of 150 miles per hour, nearing the designation of a Category 5 storm.
Though, the danger with Hurricane Florence is not the winds, in fact, it’s the rain.
Virginia emergency management officials are calling for “catastrophic levels of inland flooding.” Yesterday, Governor Ralph Northam declared a state of emergency, ordering the mandatory evacuation of 245,000 residents in the lowest-lying shorelines of Hampton Roads and the Eastern Shore. The evacuation was slated to be in effect at 8:00 a.m. this morning.
There is the potential for Florence to stall or significantly reduce its forward speed as it nears the coast, which could prolong the effects of damaging winds, storm surge flooding, and beach erosion. Such a development would also greatly enhance inland flooding of streams and rivers.
“There’s never been a storm like Florence,” AccuWeather Vice President of Forecasting and Graphics Operations Marshall Moss said. “It was located farther north in the Atlantic than any other storm to ever hit the Carolinas, so what we’re forecasting is unprecedented.”
He added, “Also, most storms coming into the Carolinas tend to move northward, and this storm looks like it’s going to stall over the region and potentially bring tremendous, life-threatening flooding.”
Rainfall of up to 20 inches is projected in some areas of the state, including Central and Southside Virginia. Estimates of eight to 15 inches rain now cover more than half of the Commonwealth.
“Take this storm very seriously,” Virginia Coordinator of Emergency Management Jeff Stern said, according to a report from the Richmond Times-Dispatch.
Stern explained, “This is a very challenging storm that works against our normal planning scenarios because in addition to a major Category 4 or 5 potential storm — something that no one in Virginia has experienced in their lifetimes — coming ashore just south of us or even potentially still directly into Virginia, we will see with the potential stall that is predicted catastrophic levels of inland flooding throughout the state.”
Hurricane Florence will also be the first significant test for the James River floodwall in Richmond since the 1990s. Even if the metro region does not get the maximum forecast amount of rain fall, significant inland flooding runoff from the western part of the state will greatly affect the river.
Richmond may feel the effects of the seemingly unprecedented rainfall up to a week after it passes through.
The floodwall has under gone annual checks by the Army Corps of Engineers, most recently checked in June, as well as two weeks ago. City officials will close the gates when the James River reaches the nine to ten foot-high level at the Richmond-Westham Gauge.
Richmond’s Deputy Chief Administrative Officer for Operations Bob Steidel explained recently that underground portions of the floodwall system are used frequently, even in smaller storms to prevent flooding from reaching the city. The 14th Street Bridge gates would likely be the first above-ground portion to be closed if flooding became severe.
As for preparations before Florence arrives, Stern said the state of emergency allows an “unprecedented mobilization of the entire force of the Virginia National Guard.” All 6,000 troops have been put on call, with 1,500 to be active by Wednesday night.
Furthermore, for the first time ever, Virginia has asked for mutual aid from neighboring states. Requests included 21 swift-water rescue teams and five incident management teams that will provide movement, supply, and air support to local governments and the military bases, according to the report.