Florence Now a Major Category 3 Hurricane; Destructive Strike Likely on Southeast Coast

At a Glance

  • Florence has rapidly intensified into a major hurricane.
  • A strike on the U.S. East Coast is now likely Thursday.
  • Tropical storm force winds may arrive as soon as Wednesday night.
  • Those in the path of Florence should have their hurricane plans ready to go.
  • Massive inland rainfall flooding is also expected from Florence lingering into next week.
  • Florence is also generating dangerous surf and rip currents along the East Coast.

Hurricane Florence has rapidly intensified into a Category 3 major hurricane southeast of Bermuda and is likely to lash the East Coast later this week with life-threatening storm surge, destructive winds and massive inland rainfall flooding in one of the strongest strikes on this part of the East Coast on record.

If you’re in the East Coast threat zone, the time is now to develop or firm up your hurricane preparedness plan and be ready to implement it if necessary.

Current Status

As of late Monday morning, Florence was still more than 600 miles southeast of Bermuda, moving west-northwest.

Current Storm Status
(The highest cloud tops, corresponding to the most vigorous convection, are shown in the brightest red colors. Clustering, deep convection around the center is a sign of a healthy tropical cyclone.)

Conditions in the atmosphere and ocean, including decreased wind shear and warm sea-surface temperatures, have improved, allowing Florence’s winds to increase from 75 mph to 115 mph in the 24 hours ending 11 a.m. EDT Monday.

This is the second time Florence has undergone rapid intensification, doing so also last Tuesday and Wednesday before wind shear weakened it temporarily.

Florence has generated swells that are affecting parts of the U.S. East Coast. Swells are also propagating to Bermuda and north- and northeastward-facing coasts of the Lesser Antilles, Puerto Rico, Hispañiola, the Turks and Caicos and the Bahamas.

These swells will produce life-threatening surf and rip current conditions at these beaches

Track Forecast

While there still remains some uncertainty in the precise track of Florence, a destructive strike on the East Coast is likely.

The key to Florence’s path hinges on the strength and westward extent of a dome of high pressure aloft, which is developing and will strengthen north of Florence over the western Atlantic Ocean Monday and Tuesday.

That bullish high-pressure ridge is expected to be strong enough and far enough west to push Florence to the Southeast coast. 

Projected Path
(The red-shaded area denotes the potential path of the center of the tropical cyclone. It’s important to note that impacts (particularly heavy rain, high surf, coastal flooding, winds) with any tropical cyclone usually spread beyond its forecast path.)

Where Florence turns northward around the western periphery of that high-pressure system will determine what part of the coastline experiences the worst wind and storm-surge impacts typically near the eye.

The National Hurricane Center is forecasting Florence to be a major hurricane (Category 3 or 4) when it arrives at the Southeast coast Thursday. Florence may become only the fourth Category 4 hurricane to make landfall along the U.S. East Coast north of Georgia, joining Hugo (1989), Gracie (1959) and Hazel (1954), according to the historical database.

Here is what we know right now about Florence’s track timing. All of this is subject to change in the days ahead, so check back for updates.

– Timing: The peak impacts from Florence are expected Thursday. Tropical storm-force winds may arrive as soon as Wednesday night, but most certainly by Thursday morning along the Southeast coast in the general area of the forecast path. Impacts from Florence, particularly heavy rain, may continue into next weekend or early next week, if it stalls out for a time, as suggested by forecast guidance.

– Locations Potentially Affected: Areas from southeastern Virginia to the Carolinas are most likely to see the first impacts from Florence. As mentioned earlier, it’s too early to know specific impacts for this stretch of coastline. Locations farther south, such as Georgia and  northeast Florida and farther north into the mid-Atlantic should also monitor Florence for any forecast changes.

Potential U.S. Impacts

We cannot pinpoint exact areas that will see the worst impacts from storm surge, wind and rainfall flooding. However, some potential impacts are coming into a bit more focus.

– Coastal Impact: A destructive storm surge will accompany the eye coming ashore Thursday. It will be highest to the north or northeast of where the center comes ashore. Large, battering waves will ride atop this surge. Significant beach erosion is also likely on the southeastern U.S. coast.

Model Forecast Wave Heights
(Large, battering waves are depicted by the purple contours on this model forecast.)

– Wind Impact: Numerous downed trees and long-lasting power outages could occur near and inland from where the center of Florence strikes. This threat of tree damage and power outages may also extend across Florence’s larger swath of tropical-storm-force winds. Structural damage to homes and buildings is possible, particularly where the core of any hurricane-force winds moves through. 

Tropical-Storm-Force Wind Probabilities
(Winds of 39 mph or greater are expected to begin at the times indicated in purple. Preparations should be completed 12 to 18 hours before this time.)

– Rainfall Impact: Florence could not only produce heavy rain along the coast, but also farther inland across the Carolinas and mid-Atlantic. That heavy rain threat may last for days if Florence stalls out into next weekend or early next week, as suggested by some forecast guidance. If that stall occurs, disastrous flooding could occur in some areas. See the link below for more information. 

Florence Rainfall Outlook
(This should be interpreted as a broad outlook of where the heaviest rain may fall, and may shift based on the forecast path. Extreme amounts may occur where bands of rain stall over a period of several hours. )

The name Florence has been used for Atlantic tropical storms and hurricanes since 1953. Unfortunately, the destructive potential of this iteration may mean the name Florence may be retired from future use