The Storm Of A Lifetime
Hurricane Florence was a powerful and long-lived Cape Verde hurricane, as well as the wettest tropical cyclone on record in the Carolinas and the ninth-wettest tropical cyclone to affect the contiguous United States. The sixth named storm, third hurricane, and the first major hurricane of the 2018 Atlantic hurricane season, Florence originated from a strong tropical wave that emerged off the west coast of Africa on August 30, 2018. Steady organization resulted in the formation of a tropical depression on the next day near Cape Verde. Progressing along a steady west-northwest trajectory, the system acquired tropical storm strength on September 1, and fluctuated in strength for several days over open ocean. An unexpected bout of rapid intensification ensued on September 4–5, culminating with Florence becoming a Category 4 major hurricane on the Saffir–Simpson scale with estimated maximum sustained winds of 130 mph (215 km/h).
Environmental conditions tore the storm apart, and Florence degraded to a tropical storm by September 7. Shifting steering currents led to a westward turn into a more suitable environment; the system regained hurricane strength on September 9 and major hurricane status by the following day. At 16:00 UTC on September 10, Florence again became a Category 4 hurricane, later reaching a new peak intensity with 1-minute winds of 140 mph (220 km/h) and a central pressure of 939 mbar (27.7 inHg). Afterwards, Florence weakened slightly as it underwent an eyewall replacement cycle, but began to restrengthen late on September 11. However, increasing wind shear caused the storm’s winds to gradually taper over the next few days, though the storm’s wind field continued to grow. By the evening of September 13, Florence had been downgraded to a Category 1 hurricane, though the storm began to stall as it neared the Carolina coastline. Early the next day on September 14, Florence made landfall just south of Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina, and weakened further as it slowly moved inland.
Early in the storm’s history, the system brought squall conditions to the Cape Verde islands, resulting in some landslides and flooding; however, overall impacts were negligible. With the threat of a major impact in the Southeastern and Mid-Atlantic United States becoming evident by September 7, the governors of North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, Georgia, and Maryland, and the mayor of Washington, D.C. declared a state of emergency. On September 10 and September 11, the states of North Carolina, South Carolina, and Virginia all issued mandatory evacuation orders for some of their coastal communities, as it was expected that emergency management personnel would be unable to reach people in those areas once the storm arrived.
Florence Makes Landfall
Florence made landfall in Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina on September 14, and by mid-morning rescuers had already evacuated more than 200 people from floodwaters, with about 150 more awaiting rescue. The storm had reportedly cut power to more than 500,000 customers in North and South Carolina by the time of landfall and caused the roof of a hotel in Jacksonville, North Carolina to collapse that morning.
Heavy rains continued to affect the Carolinas after landfall. By the morning of September 16, Wilmington had recorded more rain from Florence than any other single weather event in the city’s history. Additionally, Florence contributed to the wettest year in Wilmington history, with annual rainfall totals eclipsing the previous record set in 1877. A weather station in Swansboro, North Carolina, recorded 33.90 inches (861 mm) of rain, while another near Marion, South Carolina, measured 18.13 inches (461 mm), establishing new records for a tropical cyclone in both states.
The entirety of Wilmington (pop: 120,000) became entirely isolated, as all roads to the city flooded and were deemed impassable. The majority of residents remained without electricity, as of September 16. The city’s airport and port were also closed. Although cell phone service remained operational, excess demand strained networks. More than 450 people required rescue across Wilmington. Woody White, New Hanover County chairman of the board of commissioners, issued a statement advising all travelers to avoid the Wilmington area. There was a report of looting and burglary at a Wilmington area Family Dollar, with the theft of non-essential items such as sports apparel and athletic shoes during the height of the storm. The city-wide curfew issued in advance of the storm was extended because of these incidents.
Early on September 17, a tornado was confirmed in Elm City, North Carolina.
Rip currents and rough seas in New Smyrna Beach, Florida resulted in 13 rescues; one victim died at the hospital and two others sustained impact injuries. One man drowned on September 11 at Florida’s Playalinda Beach, while trying to rescue a 10-year-old boy caught in a rip current. One child drowned in Green Swamp near Sumter, South Carolina, after water released from the Second Mill Pond flowed into the river.
One man died in Wayne County while trying to evacuate. In Wilmington, a mother and her baby were killed when a tree landed on their house. In Hampstead, a woman died of a heart attack after first responders were unable to reach her due to tree-blocked roads. Another person was killed in Lenoir County while plugging in a generator in the wet conditions. In Kinston, a fifth fatality occurred when a man was killed by the storm conditions.A house fire in Fayetteville killed a husband and wife. Three people died in Duplin County from freshwater flooding. One man was killed in Kinston by strong winds while checking on his hunting dogs. A three-month-old baby died in Gaston County when a tree crushed a mobile home. In Union County, a woman drove around a barrier into a flooded road and her vehicle was swept away. Rescuers saved the mother; however, her one-year-old baby drowned. An 18-wheeler hydroplaned off Interstate 85 near Kings Mountain and crashed into a tree; the vehicle tore in half, killing the driver.
Three deaths originally attributed to the hurricane were later confirmed as unrelated. One woman died of unknown causes in a shelter and two people found dead on Harkers Island were deemed victims of a murder-suicide.
Two people died from carbon monoxide poisoning in Loris, South Carolina. A vehicle with three occupants lost control on a flooded road in Georgetown County; one passenger died while the driver and another passenger were able to escape. A fourth person died when her vehicle crashed into a downed tree near Union. A vehicle lost control along Interstate 20 near Columbiaand crashed into a bridge support beam, killing the driver. Another fatal accident occurred near Columbia when a woman drove into a flooded road and crashed into a tree.
On September 17, a tornado in Chesterfield County, Virginia killed one person.
In the aftermath, over 40,000 workers from across the U.S. and Canada went to the region to help restore power, according to the Edison Electric Institute.
Help Those Affected By Hurricane Florence
Hurricane Florence is projected to bring devastating rain, flooding, and wind to North Carolina, South Carolina, and Virginia, affecting millions of people. Google will match up to $1 million in donations to provide critical relief to those in need. Click HERE to donate to the Google.org relief effort.