A satellite image of Florence over the Northern Atlantic northeast of Barbados.
Photo: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (Getty Images)

Hurricane Florence, which was briefly downgraded to a tropical storm last week, was re-upgraded to hurricane status on Sunday and looks like it is destined to barrel straight at the U.S.’ East Coast. According to CNN, odds are good that it will have strengthened to Category 4 status—meaning sustained winds in the range of 130-156 miles per hour—before the time it makes landfall later this week, likely on Thursday or Friday.

CNN wrote:

“Maximum sustained winds are now 75 mph, and further strengthening is forecast over the coming days,” said CNN senior meteorologist Dave Hennen. “Florence continues on a track to impact the US mainland by Thursday or Friday.”

The hurricane center said, “All indications are that Florence will be an extremely dangerous Category 4 hurricane while it moves over the western Atlantic toward the southeastern United States.”

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Florence was some 1,500 miles away from the East Coast and moving west at roughly six miles per hour on Sunday morning, according to CNN. It’s projected to pass between the Bahamas and Bermuda on its way to land.

According to CNN, weather experts say the storm is most likely to hit in the Carolinas. However, the Washington Post noted that the hurricane’s exact placement is “within a large cone of uncertainty” and residents anywhere from “Florida to southern New England” should be aware of the storm’s progression.

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The Post’s weather team noted that Florence will pass over oceans that are warmer than normal, which will provide fuel and “favors at least a Category 3 hurricane landfall on the Southeast coast by week’s end” (emphasis theirs). It’s possible it could become a Category 5 storm.

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The National Hurricane Center warned on Twitter that there may be a high risk of “storm surge at the coast and freshwater flooding from a prolonged heavy rainfall event inland.” Accuweather added that storm swells are expected to stretch for hundreds of miles around Florence and impact, and there’s a possibility that the storm could stall right as hits land, resulting in sustained battering of the coast and flooding.

The Post wrote:

In these coastal areas, heavy surf and elevated water levels arrive by Wednesday morning, and rainfall could begin by Thursday morning.

Tropical-storm-force winds could reach the coastline as early as Wednesday night, at which point all outdoor preparations should be completed. Extremely dangerous hurricane-force winds could batter coastal locations Thursday into Friday. Hurricane to tropical-storm-force winds could extend inland depending on the storm’s exact track.

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Two tropical storms are following behind it: Isaac and Helene. Helene is expected to veer north well before coming close to the coast, though Isaac is expected to turn into a hurricane as it continues heading west towards the Windward Islands, the Miami Herald wrote.

In preparation for the storm, the governments of North Carolina, South Carolina, and Virginia have all declared states of emergency and are mobilizing resources. As Axios noted, many areas in the path of the storm have not seen hurricanes of this strength for decades—like Charleston, South Carolina, where the last Category 4 storm was Hugo in 1989. Thanks to rising ocean waters from climate change, the area is already prone to the phenomenon of “sunny day flooding” in good conditions.

As Earther noted on Friday, this course is unprecedented. Almost all of the 57 named storms that have passed within 200 miles of Florence’s position at that time have curved out to sea, other than a handful which slammed into the Dominican Republic.

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Update, 5:15pm ET: From the News & Observer, a warning that people need to start preparing for the storm now, not later:

“If this, which is looking sort of like a worst-case scenario, comes to pass, there’s going to be a lot of folks rushing out at the last minute to get supplies,” said Nick Petro, National Weather Service warning coordination meteorologist, in a briefing on Florence Sunday. “You have all day today, the weather’s generally OK; tomorrow, Monday, those are the days people need to be out there preparing because come Tuesday and Wednesday, if this holds, there’s going to be a lot of concerned folks out there. The sooner preparations are completed, the better.”

[CNN/Washington Post]

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