NORTH CAROLINA (CN) – Officials spent much of Thursday reminding North Carolina residents who chose to ignore evacuation orders that Hurricane Florence will cause massive storm surges and flooding across the state’s eastern part as the storm comes ashore sometime this evening.
By mid-afternoon on Thursday the outer bands of the hurricane began spreading over the coast innundating boarded up beach communities with tremendous rain squalls.
Governor Roy Cooper acknowledged during a press conference on Thursday that the hurricane has weakened somewhat as its landfall grows ever-nearer, but this does not mean the danger from the storm is decreasing.
In fact, he said, Hurricane Florence has gotten considerably larger as its overall wind speed has comes down, with its tropical-storm force winds now extending some 200 miles from the hurricane’s eye. Florence has also slowed as it approaches the coast, meaning the dangers associated with its storm surge have grown, not lessened.
“Don’t relax, don’t get complacent,” he said. “Today, the threat becomes a reality.”
Some portions of the North Carolina coast may see storm surges as high as 13-feet,
“The storm surge is caused by the storm’s winds piling up seawater ahead of the storm and driving it into the coast,” said Jack Scheff, an assistant professor in the meteorology department at UNC Charlotte.
Scheff, who specializes in climate and surface-atmosphere interaction, said surges were a major cause of death for victims of Hurricane Sandy and Hurricane Katrina.
“This is the main reason people on the coast are urged to evacuate,” he said. “The major danger of ‘waiting it out’ on the coast or low-lying land is the high risk of being drowned, flooded, swept out to sea or otherwise injured by the storm surge.”
Scheff said, this much uncertainty around a hurricane’s path is quite common.
“But, the difference with Florence is that it will be moving roughly parallel to the coast for much of Friday and possibly Saturday, and so the uncertainty is very consequential,” he said. “If it tracks parallel to the coast but just offshore, it will be much stronger and generate more storm surge than if it tracks parallel to the coast but just inland.”
Properties surrounding estuaries and sounds have a great chance of being damaged by flooding, because the shape of these waterways have the potential to funnel in large quantities of water, he said. He added: this does not mean the impact on beachfronts will be less severe.
Tens of thousands of structures are expected to flood in North Carolina, according to Governor Cooper.
The state currently has 108 shelters open service more than 7,000 evacuees.
Some Coastal North Carolina residents have chosen to stay in their homes during the storm.
Officials in Elizabeth City issued a voluntary evacuation earlier this week, but Jim Derrickson and other members of his community, nestled between Elizabeth River and the Albemarle Sound an hour’s drive from the Outer Banks, are staying put.
“If we were more of a direct hit or in the Outer Banks, we would have already evacuated,” said Derrickson, who moved to Elizabeth City with his wife only a month ago.
Though current forecasts show the eye of Florence veering far south of Derrickson’s home, he has spent the last three days preparing by packing loose lawn items in his locked shed.
“I am concerned, mostly, about flooding,” he said, noting that the area is low-lying and susceptible to flooded roadways.
Some neighbors, Derrickson said, have headed north to Virginia.
He has confidence in the integrity of his home that was built in 1925 in the city’s historical district, since the structure has withstood harsh winds and rain for over 90 years.