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Record rainfall, catastrophic flash and river flooding, at least 32 deaths and more than 1 million without power as Hurricane “Florence” hits U.S.


Hurricane "Florence" made landfall along the coast of North Carolina, near Wrightsville Beach, at 11:15 UTC on September 14, 2018, with maximum sustained winds of 150 km/h (90 mph) and central pressure of 958 hPa, placing the storm on the upper edge of Category 1 hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson scale. Florence produced record-breaking rainfall, left more than 1 million customers without power and claimed lives of at least 32 people. This event is still not over and in some parts of North Carolina, the worst is yet to come.

As of 03:00 UTC on September 17 (23:00 EDT, September 16), Florence is a tropical depression with its center located about 70 km (45 miles) NNE of Greenville, SC and about 45 km (30 miles) ENE of Asheville, North Carolina. Its maximum sustained winds are 45 km/h (30 mph) and the system is moving N at 17 km/h (10 mph) with minimum central pressure of 1 007 hPa.

Florence produced up to 1 000 mm (40 inches) of rain over parts of North Carolina from Thursday, September 13 to Monday, September 17, causing 'unprecedented and historic flooding.' At least 5 locations in the state have already exceeded flooding produced by Hurricane "Floyd" 19 years ago, the National Weather Service (NWS) said.

With three months still to go, the city of Wilmington in North Carolina has already broken its 140-year-old annual record for rain with 2204.4 mm (86.79 inches). Its previous annual record was set in 1877 with 2124.7 mm (83.65 inches).

With 860.8 mm (33.89 inches) of rain by 17:00 EDT on September 16, Swansboro, NC set a new record for the state, making Florence the third storm to set a tropical cyclone state rainfall record in just the last 12 months. Harvey dropped 1538.7 mm (60.58 inches) of rain in Texas in 2017, setting the state’s new record. In August 2018, Lane dropped 1321.3 mm (52.02 inches) of rain in parts of Hawaii, breaking the state record.

As of early September 16, Florence stands as the 6th highest tropical rainfall total across the United States since 1950 when such record-keeping began.

Here are the preliminary rainfall totals from NOAA collection locations as measured from September 13 through 17:00 EDT, September 16:

North Carolina

Swansboro: 860.8 mm (33.89 inches)

Hoffman Forest: 748.8 mm (29.48 inches)

Sunny Point: 696.9 mm (27.44 inches)

Newport/Morehead City: 640 mm (25.20 inches)

Emerald Isle: 600.9 mm (23.66 inches)

Cedar Point: 551.9 mm (21.73 inches)

Croatan: 652.7 mm (21.70 inches)

Bolivia: 548.4 mm (21.59 inches)

Lumberton: 547.4 mm (21.51 inches)

South Carolina

Marion: 460.7 mm (18.13 inches)

Carolina Sand Hills: 417.6 mm (16.44 inches)

Chesterfield: 407.9 mm (16.06 inches)

Jefferson: 398.3 mm (15.68 inches)

Loris: 309.4 mm (12.18 inches)

Conway: 245.5 mm (10.10 inches)

Pawley’s Island: 256 mm (10.08 inches)

This rain event, however, is still not over and more records will fall before it's over.

The Cape Fear River near Fayetteville, NC rose 4.5 meters (15 feet) in just 24 hours from early September 15 to early September 16 and reached flood stage, NWS meteorologists said. "This will be very dangerous flooding over the next few days."

The Lumber River, near Lumberton, North Carolina, rose into major flood stage September 16 and is expected to reach a level very near the record Hurricane "Matthew" set in 2016. Mandatory evacuations were issued for South Lumberton on September 15.

The Northeast Cape Fear River, near Chinquapin, North Carolina, will rise above record flood levels set by Hurricane "Floyd" in 1999. This will cause devastating flooding across much of Onslow County, officials said.

Major river flooding is also expected on some rivers from southern Virginia to northern South Carolina.

The system continues to produce widespread heavy rains over much of North Carolina and northeastern South Carolina. Flash flooding and catastrophic/historic river flooding will continue over a significant portion Carolinas, NWS warns.

"Heavy rain will continue across portions of the Carolinas and northward into the Mid Atlantic through Monday, September 17. The rain will exacerbate ongoing flash flooding, cause new areas of river flooding, and may even result in landslides across and near the Appalachians. The precipitation will spread into parts of the Northeast late Monday into Tuesday, September 18," the agency said.

"Flooding has become catastrophic in some areas and access to some communities will only be possible by boat into later this week," according to AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Mike Doll. "This is truly a life-threatening situation."

The number of flash flood emergencies, water rescues, evacuations and road closures continue to rise and Florence is already being blamed for the deaths of at least 18 people (as of September 17) in South and North Carolina. On September 18, the death toll rose to at least 32 (25 in North Carolina, 6 in South Carolina and 1 in Virginia).

More than 1 million households and businesses were left without power and more than 460 000 remain without power in North Carolina and 17 000 in South Carolina as of 07:00 UTC on September 17.

"Flood waters are still raging across parts of our state, and the risk to life is rising with the angry waters," North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper said Sunday. "In certain areas of the state, this storm has never been more dangerous than it is right now."

Cooper said that some areas of the state were getting 50.8 to 76.2 mm (2 to 3 inches) of rain per hour. "That's enough to cause flooding in areas that have never flooded before."

"It's bad right now, and we do expect it to get worse over the coming days," said Michael Sprayberry, director of North Carolina Emergency Management. "We know that's going to be a major mission going forward because this is historic and unprecedented flooding."

There are no coastal watches or warnings in effect. However, flash flood warnings are in effect across a large portion of southern and western North Carolina, portions of far northeast South Carolina and southwest Virginia.

Flash flood watches are in effect across much of North Carolina, northern South Carolina and portions of Western Virginia and southern and eastern West Virginia.

Florence is expected to produce heavy and excessive rainfall over the next couple of days. Portions of the Carolinas, Mid-Atlantic States, and Southern New England are expected to receive an additional 51 – 127 mm (2 to 5 inches) of rain, with isolated maximum amounts of 204 mm (8 inches) possible.

Storm total accumulations of up to 1 016 mm (40 inches) in southern North Carolina, 510 mm (20 inches) in northern South Carolina and western North Carolina will produce catastrophic flash flooding and prolonged significant river flooding. An elevated risk for landslides exists in western North Carolina.

Storm total accumulations up to 381 mm (15 inches) in southwest Virginia and 127 – 254 mm (5-10 inches) in the remainder of the Mid-Atlantic and New England States will produce life-threatening flash flooding and significant river flooding. An elevated risk for landslides exists in southwest Virginia.

Featured image credit: Tornado Chasers

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One Comment

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