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The Latest: Florence weakens into Category 2 storm

September 13, 2018

The updated track of Hurricane Florence, according to the National Weather Service.

The latest update for Hurricane Florence is much less alarming for the Triangle than it was 24 hours ago, but it still requires serious preparation for all North Carolina residents, particularly those in the southern and eastern portions of the state, according to WRAL meteorologist Elizabeth Gardner.

11:30 p.m.: Cumberland County schools announced all classes will be canceled Thursday and Friday for students and staff as Hurricane Florence approaches.

11:15 p.m.: The Sampson County Board of Commissioners have imposed a mandatory evacuation for a portion of the southern part of the county as Florence approaches.

The evacuation order affects residents of Franklin Township, specifically in the area south of Highway 411, from Harrells to Clear Run, and areas south of Highway 41. The evacuation order will be effective from 8 a.m. Thursday.

Any evacuees needing shelter can go to Clinton High School at 340 Indian Town Toad. Busses will depart beginning at 9 a.m. from Harrells Fire Department for those who need shelter but do not have access to transportation.

11:10 p.m.: WRAL Chief Meteorologist Greg Fishel said that even though Florence has unexpectedly weakened into a Category 2 storm, the hurricane could still pose a significant risk.

“This amount of weakening was not anticipated,” he said. “Does this mean we have much less to worry about? Not at all.”

Fishel said that the wind field associated with the storm is continuing to increase in size and could cause devastating storm surge. He compared Florence’s wind field to Hurricane Sandy, which was only a Category 1 storm when it made landfall but still caused devastating effects along the Jersey Shore in New Jersey in 2012.

“The overall wind speeds may not be all that impressive at landfall, but the storm surge could be enormous,” he said.

The National Hurricane Center is still predicting a storm surge of 9 to 13 feel along the coast and in the Pamlico Sound and area rivers.

Fishel said the storm is currently expected to make landfall along the North Carolina coast overnight Thursday as a Category 2 storm, but there is a potential for the storm to regain strength before doing so.

The storm is continuing to follow the same track, heading into South Carolina after making landfall near Wilmington.

11 p.m.: The latest update from the National Hurricane Center shows that Florence has weakened to a Category 2 storm with sustained winds of 110 mph.

The storm is 385 miles southeast of Raleigh and is moving northwest at 17 mph

10:10 p.m.: WRAL Chief Meteorologist Greg Fishel said Florence is not intensifying as originally expected, but with winds of 115 mph it is still as strong as Hurricane Fran was when it made landfall in 1996.

“At this point in time, it appeared that the storm would be much, much stronger than it actually is,” Fishel said. “Yes the speeds are down, yes, they’re less than expected, but don’t be misled into thinking the impact is not going to be big.”

Forecast models show Florence could bring a storm surge of nine to 13 feet and could bring up to 20 inches of rain along the coast. With the storm continuing to track farther south, the Triangle can expect to see about 3 to 6 inches of rain.

“The farther north and west you are, the less risk you have,” WRAL meteorologist Mike Maze said.

The National Hurricane Center will release the latest update on Florence’s track at 11 p.m.

9:58 p.m.: Hoke County officials announced they would be opening a second shelter to help accommodate residents.

A shelter at Sandy Grove Middle School at 300 Chason Road was operational as of 9 p.m. Wednesday. The shelter cannot accommodate pets and does not offer special needs assistance. A shelter at Don Steed Elementary School at 800 Phillippi Church Road also offers a pet shelter.

All people coming to a shelter are asked to bring bedding, medicines, foods, personal hygiene items and flashlights, officials said.

“Hoke County officials urge all citizens to either take shelter at a county shelter or to be prepared to be self-sufficient for 72 hours following the storm,” officials said in a statement.

Hoke County residents are asked to remain indoors between 7 p.m. and 7 a.m. beginning Wednesday.

9:15 p.m.: Southwest Airlines announced it will not operate any flights out of Raleigh-Durham International Airport on Thursday or Friday and will not have any staff present in Terminal 1. The airline plans to resume normal operations Saturday.

Air Canada and Alaska Airlines already announced all flights would be canceled Thursday and American, Frontier,JetBlue and United said to plan for scattered cancelations.

8:37 p.m.: The Wake County shelters at Knightdale High School, Southeast Raleigh High School and Garner Magnet High School are full. Wake County officials said there are plans to open additional shelters and options and resources are being assessed.

8:05 p.m.: The Wake County courthouse will be closed Friday as a result of Hurricane Florence.

8 p.m.: The 8 p.m. advisory from the National Hurricane Center shows that Florence remains a Category 3 hurricane with maximum sustained winds of 115 mph. The storm is moving northwest at 16 mph.

7:55 p.m.: 96 people have signed in at seven emergency shelters in Cumberland County.

7 p.m.: Johnston County officials announced that all emergency medical response efforts will be suspended if sustained winds reach speeds of 40 mph or more during Hurricane Florence “to prevent unnecessary loss of life or injury to citizens and emergency medical responders.”

Anybody who experiences a life-threatening emergency should call 911 and all emergency calls received during a high wind event will be responded to in order of emergency status once wind speeds decrease, officials said.

6 p.m.: WRAL Chief Meteorologist Greg Fishel said Florence is currently 380 miles away from Wilmington and is expected to slow and stall when it makes landfall sometime late Thursday or early Friday.

“If you’re down around Wilmington and you get 25 to 30 inches of rain and you’re pelted with wind for 36 hours, you can imagine how bad it’s going to be down there,” Fishel said.

Fishel said storm surges are expected to be between nine and 13 feet and could cause greater problems when they back up into nearby bodies of water, including the Tar and Neuse rivers.

The latest storm track shows Florence tracking farther south, and Fishel said that will lessen the storm’s impacts in the Triangle.

“We have the potential for power outages but, at this point in the Triangle, I don’t see this as a big problem like Fran because it’s going farther south,” he said.

5:20: p.m.: Between 750,000 and 1 million North Carolina residents are under evacuation orders, Gov. Roy Cooper said. Fifty shelters have been opened across the state for evacuees, and a “mega-shelter” that can house at least 1,000 people was opening Wednesday evening at Lawrence Joel Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Winston-Salem, he said.

“If you aren’t under evacuation orders, now’s the time to finish preparations and get ready to hunker down,” Cooper said. “We expect this storm to be with us for days.”

Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler said the hurricane poses serious threats to crops that are just starting to be harvested. Livestock have already been moved to higher ground, but river flooding could create contamination issues with hog waste lagoons, even though water levels in them have been lowered.

The state has set up the North Carolina Disaster Relief Fund at rebuild.nc.gov to accept hurricane relief donations, Cooper said.

5:10 p.m.: As Florence approaches, the National Weather Service has issued tropical storm warnings for several inland counties including Bertie, Bladen, Camden, Chowan, Columbus, Cumberland, Currituck, Gates, Hertford, Pasquotank, Perquimans, Robeson, Sampson, and Wayne.

Tropical storm watches have been issued for Cumberland, Edgecombe, Harnett, Hoke, Johnston, Moore, Richmond, Scotland and Wilson counties.

4:49 p.m.: The National Hurricane Center has released its 5 p.m. advisory for Florence. The storm’s winds have diminished by about 5 miles per hour but its track is still largely unchanged and the storm remains a major hurricane.

4:10 p.m.: Air Canada, Alaska and Southwest Airlines say they are not planning to operate from RDU on Thursday, September 13. American, Frontier, JetBlue and United will have scattered cancelations. Delta and United are planning mostly normal operations for Thursday.

3:40 p.m.: The City of Raleigh will be opening four parking decks for free parking during Hurricane Florence for those nervous about their cars flooding. The decks will open Thursday at 12 p.m. and will remain open until Monday at 7 a.m. The following parking decks are open: City Center/RedHat, Moore Square, Wilmington Street Station and the Municipal Building.

3:05 p.m.: WRAL Chief Meteorologist Greg Fishel says all of the computer models agree that Hurricane Florence will approach the Carolinas and dump 2-3 feet of rain in the southeastern corner of North Carolina. “It looks really, really bad in the southeastern corner of North Carolina,” Fishel said, saying the storm would then jog left and head towards South Carolina.

3 p.m.: Duke Energy officials say Florence will knock out power to an estimated 1 million to 3 million customers in North and South Carolina.

“The magnitude of the storm is beyond what we have seen in years,” Howard Fowler, Duke’s incident commander, said in a statement. “With the storm expected to linger, power restoration work could take weeks instead of days.”

More than 20,000 people are in place to restore power, which Fowler called the largest resource mobilization ever for the utility.

2:45 p.m.: A shelter at Knightdale High School for residents of Dare and Carteret counties is at capacity and won’t accept any more evacuees, officials said.

2:40 p.m.: Durham Public Schools officials have decided not to hold classes Thursday after all. On Wednesday, they announced that schools would close three hours early. Instead, students will be off both Thursday and Friday.

Nash-Rocky Mount Public Schools also will close on Thursday.

2:25 p.m.: The National Hurricane Center says Florence has weakened slightly to a Category 3 storm, with maximum sustained winds of 125 mph. The hurricane is still “extremely dangerous,” officials said.

2:15 p.m.: The Wake County Public School System revised the schedule for Thursday and Friday. Schools will now be closed on both days.

12:30 p.m.: Raleigh officials are using reverse-911 to notify about 26,000 residents in low-lying areas to prepare for possible flooding from Florence, City Manager Ruffin Hall said.

City officials have lowered the water levels at Lake Johnson, Lake Benson and other reservoirs to absorb as much water as possible from the storm, Hall said. Crabtree Creek frequently floods after heavy rains and is expected to overflow its banks during the the hurricane, he said, but the city can’t do anything beyond monitoring the situation and notifying residents as conditions change.

Raleigh plans to activate a non-emergency phone line on Thursday morning for residents to relay information about downed trees or other issues that need to be addressed. That phone number will be 919-996-2999.

11:30 a.m.: Orange County has launched a new tool to keep their residents safe during a hurricane. Residents can text OCStorm to 888-777 to get updates about shelters, road closures and more. The text service will work even if the power is out. More than 800 people signed up Tuesday when the tool launched. As of Wednesday morning, 1,227 people had signed up.

11 a.m.: The 11 a.m. update from the National Hurricane Center shows Florence’s projected path moving even farther south, leaving Raleigh just outside of the cone of uncertainty. This does not mean central North Carolina is out of the clear, but it does mean a potentially lesser impact on areas north of Raleigh. Raleigh and areas south of it could still suffer devastating flooding and wind damage.

10 a.m.: Gov. Roy Cooper said all North Carolinians must remain prepared for Florence even though it appears the storm might not cut through the middle of the state as previously forecast.

“The time to prepare is almost over,” Cooper said at a Wednesday morning news conference. “Disaster is at the doorstep and is coming in.

“Every county and every person in North Carolina needs to stay alert and take this storm seriously,” he added.

The storm surge along the coast alone is expected to flood thousands of homes and businesses, Cooper said.

About 3,000 National Guard members have been activated to assist with hurricane recovery, and more are on standby, officials said. Fourteen squads of State Highway Patrol troopers also are ready to deploy to hard-hit areas after Florence passes to assist with recovery efforts, patrol commander Col. Glenn McNeill said.

Sixteen shelters have opened across the state, and more will be opened on Wednesday, said Mike Sprayberry, director of the state Division of Emergency Management. The number of people at the shelters fluctuates, he said, saying it was difficult to pin down a number.

Transportation Secretary Jim Trogdon said evacuations from coastal areas were proceeding normally on Interstate 40, U.S. Highway 70, U.S. Highway 74 and other routes.

Cooper said another update will be provided at 5 p.m.

10 a.m.: Officials have proclaimed that Wake County is now under a state of emergency due to the projected impacts of Hurricane Florence.

9:30 a.m.: According to Elizabeth, Brunswick County beaches will likely see the worst of Florence on Thursday, since the right side of the hurricane has the strongest winds. Florence will stall and dump rain throughout the weekend as it spins along southeast North Carolina and Myrtle Beach.

9:15 a.m.: Hurricane Florence was about 500 miles from Wilmington and 600 miles from Raleigh.

8:50 a.m.: The City of Rocky Mount is imposing a curfew starting 8 p.m. Thursday through 6 a.m. Friday.

8:45 a.m.: Concern over water supply in the Triangle remains.

At 7:15 a.m., a line of shoppers were waiting for the next shipment of water at a Harris Teeter in Cary. But officials with the City of Raleigh say people will still be able to use their water even if they lose power.

8:30 a.m.: A new satellite image of Florence shows just how strong this storm is.

8:15 a.m.: Elizabeth said the Triangle could see 4 to 7 inches of rain with slightly less north of us near the Virginia line. Just south of Raleigh, the totals could be 12 inches or more. It’s important to remember that, despite the new path, the Triangle could still see life-threatening flooding.

7:30 a.m.: Many schools will be closed or delayed Thursday, including Durham, Chapel Hill, Orange and Wake. Cumberland, Edgecombe, Johnston, Nash/Rocky Mount, Wilson, Robeson, Moore and Sampson schools are canceled or delayed Wednesday. Monitor WRAL’s list for constant updates.

7 a.m.: Storm surge remains a real issue for the coast. Winds from the hurricane will cause the ocean to rise, and some buildings could be lost as a result of the flooding.

6:45 a.m.: Elizabeth explained what we can expect in terms of winds in Raleigh.

On Thursday at 8 a.m., expect 5 to 10 mph winds. Those will increase to 15 mph winds at noon, 15 to 20 mph winds by 5 p.m. and 30 to 35 mph winds overnight. Winds will top out in the 40 to 45 mph range in Raleigh on Friday morning before weakening Saturday and Sunday.

6:15 a.m.: Instead of moving into Wilmington and northward into the Triangle like originally predicted, the Florence could make landfall in Brunswick County and then move across South Carolina, Gardner explained. Hurricane Florence is more than 400 miles wide, so the Triangle and North Carolina communities near the Virginia line will still be affected.

5:45 a.m.: Despite this new path, Raleigh is by no means “in the clear.” Elizabeth Gardner says our impacts remain the same, and North Carolina communities, particularly from Raleigh south, will still see devastating flooding and heavy winds.

5:30 a.m.: Hurricane Florence has maximum winds at 130 mph, making it barely a Category 4 storm. The current path predicts Florence will make landfall south of Wilmington, brushing Brunswick County and possibly hitting Myrtle Beach, late Thursday. From there, the storm will slow down and continue to track southwest, moving across South Carolina.

5 a.m.: The latest advisory still has Florence as a Category 4 hurricane, but the track has continued to shift south. Meteorologist Kat Campbell said this means less of an impact on the Outer Banks and central North Carolina but more of an impact for the southeast portions of the state and South Carolina.

Weather officials say heavy rains and strong winds will still impact the entire state, and those in the Triangle should continue to take the storm seriously.

4:15 a.m.: At 5, the National Hurricane Center will release an updated forecast for Hurricane Florence, indicating if its strength or its projected path has changed.

11 p.m.: The 11 p.m. update from the National Hurricane Center shows that Florence’s track has shifted to the south. The latest model shows the storm would still make landfall in Wilmington as a major hurricane on Friday night, but would then move into South Carolina.

“If this path holds, there would be lesser impacts for parts of our viewing area,” WRAL meteorologist Mike Maze said.

Wrightsville beach and surrounding areas could still see the brunt of the storm surge on the current path, WRAL Chief Meteorologist Greg Fishel said.

The current path diminishes the chance for catastrophic rains in Raleigh and the Triangle, but could still have significant impact on the southern North Carolina counties.

5 p.m.: The National Hurricane Center has issued a hurricane warning for a wide swath of the North Carolina coastline as Florence gets closer to the Carolinas.

3:40 p.m. Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools have announced that they will be closed Thursday and Friday. Full list: Closings & Delays

2:45 p.m. Durham County public schools announced that public schools will close three hours early on Thursday and remain closed on Friday. Full list: Closings & Delays

2:24 p.m. Wake County public schools have announced that they are dismissing two-and-a-half hours early Thursday and will be closed Friday.

2:14 p.m.: Several countries around North Carolina have activated shelters and are ordering evacuations. You can find County-by-county storm information on WRAL.com for updated info.

1:55 p.m.: North Carolina State University State is moving to Reduced Operations and additionally canceling classes beginning noon on Wednesday.

12:32 p.m.: Gov. Roy Cooper issues the first state evacuation order in memory in North Carolina, telling people on the state’s barrier islands to leave ahead of the hurricane.

“This storm is a monster. It’s big, and it’s vicious,” Cooper said. “Even if you’ve ridden out storms before, this one is different. Don’t bet your life on riding out a monster.”

The governor also urged inland residents to continue preparing for Florence, noting that forecasts call for the system to stall over the state and drench it for days.

“We cannot expect this storm to blow over in a matter of hours,” he said, adding that rain in some areas will be measured in feet instead of inches.

The state Department of Transportation already has hundreds of trucks and chain saws mobilized to clear downed trees from roads so utility crews and relief supplies can get to affected areas.

11:38 a.m.: Cumberland County public schools announced that they are closing three hours early Wednesday and closed for the rest of the week. (NOTE: We earlier reported in error that schools were closing early Tuesday.)

11 a.m.: The latest update from the NHC shows a slightly weaker Hurricane Florence. The storm is now classified as Category 4 hurricane, with 130 mph winds. The storm is expected to come ashore somewhere along the Carolinas as a major Category 3 storm..

10:30 a.m.: Water and nonperishable food on grocery shelves around the Triangle are becoming scarce.

10:15 a.m.: Mandatory evacuations are in place for Beaufort, Dare, Pamlico, Tyrrell Beaches (Atlantic, Indian, Emerald Isle, Pine Knoll Shores, Ocracoke, Carolina, Kure, Wrightsville, Topsail, Currituck Outer Banks, Oak Island and Holden) in advance of Hurricane Florence. On Tuesday, WRAL made phone calls to several hotels in the Triangle to find that they are filling up quickly.

10 a.m.: Duke University joins the list of schools that have canceled classes later this week. N.C. State, UNC and N.C. Central have also canceled classes. Monitor our updated list of closings.

9:45 am: “We have time to get ready for this,” said an official from the Red Cross. “Make your emergency kit and write down critical phone numbers.”

9:30 a.m.: “Take action now” to prepare for Hurricane Florence, FEMA officials announced in a 9:30 a.m. press conference. FEMA officials also urged residents to heed evacuation and shelter warnings from state and local officials. “We can rebuild infrastructure, we can rebuild homes, but we can not replace lives,” an officials said.

9 a.m.: Gov. Roy Cooper is scheduled to tour the FEMA staging area at Fort Bragg’s Simmons Army Airfield at 2:30 p.m. in advance of Hurricane Florence’s landfall.

8:45 a.m.: The latest update on Hurricane Florence from the National Hurricane Center won’t arrive until 11 a.m., but a new advisory at 8 a.m. showed a drop in the storm’s wind speed from 140 mph to 130 mph. According to Gardner, the storm is likely to re-organize and strengthen over the next 24 hours. It will probably be Category 4 at landfall.

8:30 a.m.: We should expect heavy rain from Hurricane Florence in the Triangle all weekend, says Gardner. According to Gardner, a high pressure system will stop the storm and stall it in some location and continue to dump heavy rain.

8 a.m.: Gardner says to not pay too much attention to the red line in the forecast cone, as the center of Hurricane Florence could hit anywhere from Hatteras to Myrtle Beach. “Everyone at the coast needs to prepare, including our viewing area, because we may see some very heavy rain and strong winds,” said Gardner.

7:30 a.m.: Florence will most likely move inland, dropping heavy rain. 48 hours out, meteorologists will know more. By Thursday evening or Friday morning, there will be a 60 percent chance for hurricane force winds in the Triangle.

7 a.m.: Hurricane Florence did not intensify overnight, but Gardner said it could strengthen by Wednesday with winds of 150 mph. Although Florence is not expected to become a Category 5, which would mean winds 156 mph or greater, it could get close to that. The hurricane should weaken slightly before making landfall.

6:30 a.m.: WRAL meteorologist Elizabeth Gardner said it’s still too early to know which areas of central North Carolina will see the most wind damage and flooding. Strong winds are expected to start in Raleigh Thursday evening through Friday morning, while they should start Thursday morning for the coast. Some areas could see catastrophic flooding, some will not. It is still too early to tell.

6 a.m.: Storm surge, or the rising of the ocean as a result of the wind associated with a storm, is a big concern with Florence at the North Carolina coast. Gardner said we could see a storm surge of 6 to 12 feet from Wilmington to Cape Lookout this week.

5:30 a.m.: A tropical storm watch is in effect for Cumberland, Edgecombe, Harnett, Hoke, Johnston, Sampson, Wayne and Wilson counties, meaning tropical storm force winds are possible within the next 48 hours.

5:15 a.m.: Florence was located about 975 miles southeast of Cape Fear and was moving northwest at 15 mph. A hurricane watch and storm surge watch have been issued for the entire coast of North Carolina.

5 a.m.: The latest update from the National Hurricane Center shows little change in Florence’s path. The storm remains a dangerous Category 4 hurricane with maximum sustained winds of 140 mph.

4 a.m.: WRAL is expecting to receive word of more closings today and tomorrow. The list below will be updated constantly.

Multiple schools and universities in central North Carolina and across the state have canceled or delayed classes for Wednesday, Thursday and/or Friday. Monitor our list for updates.

Florence will likely hit land as a Category 3 or 4 hurricane late Thursday evening before weakening again. “We expect Florence to, at the most, have winds top out at 150 mph,” said Gardner. “That’s not far from being a Category 5 hurricane, which has winds of 157 mph or higher.”

If Florence continues on its projected path, it will make landfall along the coast late Thursday. The Triangle shouldn’t see major effects of Florence, like strong winds and rains, until overnight Thursday, but it is still too early to know the storm’s timeline for sure.

“The closer we get to Thursday and Friday, the better idea we’ll have,” said Gardner.

As the storm gets closer to the center of the state, it should weaken to Category 1, but the effects could still be devastating for the Triangle.

Rain and strong winds are the biggest threats from Florence, Garner said. Power outages, downed trees and a risk for catastrophic flooding are all potential issues in the Triangle.

Florence’s strength this close to the coast is concerning. In the 1950s, Hurricane Hazel made history as the only Category 4 storm to make landfall in North Carolina, and there’s a chance Florence could follow its example.

“We haven’t seen anything like that approaching the coast, assuming this is close to being correct, since Hazel,” WRAL Chief Meteorologist Greg Fishel said. “This is certainly going to make a stronger approach, in terms of wind speeds the way it looks now, than Fran did.”

Gardner said for this reason, forecasters will watch Florence very closely.

“The storm could hit anywhere in the cone of uncertainty, as far north as the Outer Banks and as far south as Charleston, South Carolina,” she said. “The storm is almost double the size of the state of North Carolina.”

Gardner said the storm will move more slowly once it reaches land, which unfortunately produces more rain.

“If it moves quickly, it brings stronger winds,” said Gardner. “Neither is good.”

Tropical storm force winds (above 39 mph) could begin in North Carolina by Thursday evening if the storms continues on its current path. More than a foot of rain is likely for central North Carolina from Florence, and Gardner said some areas in the hurricane’s cone could see up to 20 inches at worst.

While late week flooding is a major concern for central North Carolina, eastern portions of the state could see devastating impacts early next week as small rivers begin to flood.

In the Triangle, Gardner cautions that we could see trees through homes, flooded roads and countless power outages.

By the time Florence reaches the Triangle, it will be a Category 1 or 2 storm, but wind damage and flooding could still be devastating.

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