Florence Loses Steam

A slowing tropical storm Florence continues to creep along the Carolinas today. Its westward motion is expected to continue through Saturday. At least five deaths are connected to the storm.

Florence “will continue to track slowly inland through the Carolinas this weekend,” the National Weather Service said in its 8:00 a.m. update Saturday. “Life-threatening, catastrophic flash floods and prolonged significant river flooding are likely over portions of the Carolinas and the southern to central Appalachians from western North Carolina into southwest Virginia through early next week.”

Florence came ashore more than 24 hours ago. The tropical storm’s maximum sustained winds are holding steady, remaining at around 50 mph, with higher gusts in heavy rainbands over water, the NWS said. It continues to chug west, slowing down from 5 mph to 2 mph. That means its torrential rains will be felt harder.

This main threat — flooding — is coming into focus. Rains have been relentless, and Florence continues to dump a “catastrophic” amount of water in its path. The southeast town of Newport, N.C., reported a rainfall total of almost 24 inches as of midnight Saturday.

The NWS says southern and central portions of North Carolina into far northeast South Carolina are expected to report an additional 10 to 15 inches of rainfall — with storm totals between 30 and 40 inches along the coastal areas south of Cape Hatteras. These rains are expected to produce “prolonged, significant river flooding.”

“Residents should not let their guard down,” North Carolina Emergency Management tweeted.

The rest of South Carolina into western North Carolina and southwest Virginia is expected to report 5 to 10 inches of additional rainfall, with isolated cases of 15 inches.

Jacob Fernandez (left) and Josh Fernandez play around on the tree that fell near their home as Hurricane Florence passed through the area on Friday in Bolivia, N.C.
Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Parts of West-central Virginia and far eastern West Virginia will see “life-threatening flash flooding and river flooding, along with an elevated risk for landslides,” according to the agency. These areas will see 3 to 6 inches of rainfall, with isolated cases of 8 inches.

As NPR has reported, at least five deaths are connected to the storm.

“On Friday, a woman and infant were killed in Wilmington, N.C., when a tree fell on their home, according to the local police department. Another victim of the storm — a 78-year-old man — died in North Carolina while plugging in a generator, the state’s governor says.

“A second man, 77, in Lenoir County, appears to have been killed by a gust of wind that knocked him to the ground when he was checking on his hunting dogs.

“In Hampstead, N.C., a woman had a heart attack and debris in the roads prevented emergency responders from reaching her to provide care, a dispatcher confirms to member station WUNC.”

In New Bern, N.C., a town that sits between two rivers, rescuers have pulled more than 100 people from their homes to safer ground, as of late Friday afternoon. Dana Outlaw, the town’s mayor, told NPR there had been 1,200 requests to 911 over the previous 12 hours. “That’s very unusual. … We did everything we could to make residents aware of how dangerous this storm was going to be,” she said.

Florence is enormous, slow and very, very wet. Storms get those qualities from warm ocean water and weak wind currents that allow them to suck up moisture and come to a gradual halt over land, dumping water everywhere. Florence is the kind of stormlikely driven by climate change.

“For people in Florence’s path, that means a more drawn out and exhausting hurricane experience,” report NPR’s Rebecca Hersher and John Poole.

“Across South Carolina on Friday, at least 5,500 people were staying at 59 Red Cross shelters, ” they report. “And Florence’s plodding progress means they, and potentially many more, could be stuck sleeping among strangers for days more.”