Hurricane, storm-surge warnings up; strong winds probable here

By on September 11, 2018

Usually busy, N.C. 12 was eerily deserted Tuesday. (Rob Morris)

As evacuation orders for the entire Outer Banks went into full force Tuesday, Hurricane Florence continued to aim south of Ocracoke Island with top sustained winds of 140 mph.

A hurricane warning was posted at 5 p.m. for the entire North Carolina coast.

The storm might gain some more power before weakening by the time it reaches the coast, which will probably be Friday, according to the National Hurricane Center.

Florence could pause, however, raising the prospect of rain and wave action for several days from the coast to well inland.

Even though the projected path is holding steady for landfall south of the Outer Banks, the Hurricane Center gives nearly 100 percent odds of tropical-storm-force winds of 34 mph or more here later this week. Landfall calculations have ranged from Wilmington to Cape Fear, which is about 175 miles from Cape Hatteras.

More significantly, rainfall of up to 10 inches is possible here with more than 20 inches inland.

“Life-threatening freshwater flooding is likely from a prolonged and exceptionally heavy rainfall event, which may extend inland over the Carolinas and Mid Atlantic for hundreds of miles as Florence is expected to slow down as it approaches the coast and moves inland,” the Hurricane Center wrote in its update this morning.

A body boarder dons fins before hitting the surf on a deserted beach at Jennette’s Pier. (Rob Morris)

The storm surge warning covers the coast and Pamlico Sound, where shallow water is easily forced into western shores and up rivers, creating as much or more of a risk than along the beaches. The Hurricane Center forecasts a surge of 2 to 4 feet in addition to waves on the Outer Banks.

Wherever the storm ends up, the evacuation orders for Ocracoke Island, Dare County and Currituck County are worth heeding. Roads will become impassable, stores, restaurants and other businesses will be closed and power and cell-service could go out.

You’ll be on your own for at least five days.

Vistors clearly took the advice. Virtually every house and condo on the oceanfront in Nags Head was vacant Tuesday and the beach road was eerily deserted despite sunshine and warm weather.

Florence it is starting to expand. Hurricane-force winds spiral as far as 60 miles from its center and tropical storm force winds, 170 miles. Hurricane winds are more than 74 mph and tropical storm winds are at least 34 mph.

Maximum sustained winds are generally in a small area on the northeast quadrant of the eye. Those winds get all of the attention, but most damage and deaths are caused by storm surge and flooding rain.

Tuesday looking north from Jennette’s Pier. (Pat Morris)

By 11 p.m. Tuesday, the storm’s maximum sustained winds were 140 mph and it was moving west-northwest at 17 mph about 670 miles east-southeast of Cape Fear.

Because tropical systems gravitate toward the North Pole, other weather systems steer them. In this case, a large bubble of high pressure rotating clockwise north of Florence is holding the storm at lower latitudes. The storm is working around the outer edge and at some point, it will begin turning toward the northwest and north.

Another weather factor is expected to slow the storm down when it gets near the coast.

Exactly when that happens will determine how close the center will come to us.

“Regardless of the exact track and intensity, it is clear that Dare County is going to feel the effects of a major hurricane,” said Dare County Emergency Management Director Drew Pearson.

“Take precautions now and assemble or restock your disaster supply kit with essentials to sustain your family and your pets for three to five days. Have your evacuation plan ready to execute.”

Clouds, rain and steady breezes will probably start arriving here on Wednesday with landfall by the weekend. Surge, which is the water a storm pushes ahead of it, would arrive shortly before that.

Some overwash has already been reported as swells from the distant storm roll onto the beaches, coupled with an onshore wind and high lunar tides.

Red no-swimming flags have been posted on all beaches.

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  • Jon

    It’s going to blow a lot harder than 34mph. Why even promote that?
    Around 100 mph is more accurate.

    Tuesday, Sep 11 @ 8:24 am
  • surf123

    Actually RWS area is forecast to have winds max out in the mid-50mph range. It makes sense that the northern towns would have lower estimates. Of course this can change and we will find out how much starting Thursday night.

    Tuesday, Sep 11 @ 12:41 pm
  • Luminous

    We went out US 64 West leaving at 9:30 am Tuesday all the way out past I-95. Traffic was moving at the speed limit and normal/light the whole way. Definitely an easy way to go. And traffic was light on I-95 in both directions at US 64 early afternoon. No gas station lines Tuesday. Maybe most people left Monday.

    Tuesday, Sep 11 @ 5:52 pm
  • Pittsburgh john

    As a 20 plus year vacationer to Hatteras Island every May over Memorial Day I’m sending my prayers to all residents and hope you all get out! This thing Will no doubt make the history books. Be safe please!!!!! Love from western Pennsylvania.

    Tuesday, Sep 11 @ 8:16 pm
  • Jon

    It is so very nice here on Hatteras since the evac order. Really appreciate these three great beach days with fun waves and no footprints.

    Wednesday, Sep 12 @ 5:00 am
  • Sean

    You can’t say what it’s gonna blow until it gets were it going

    Wednesday, Sep 12 @ 6:40 am