Florence was slightly weakened but not unbowed as it continued to barrel toward the U.S. East Coast on Tuesday, with forecasters saying they expect the storm to re-strengthen to near Category 5 levels within a day or two.
The hurricane, now packing 130 mile-per-hour winds, remains poised to become the strongest to hit the Carolinas in almost 30 years, according to the U.S. Hurricane Center. More than 1 million people have begun fleeing a coastline that could see a 12-foot storm surge, and eventually cause as much as $27 billion in damages. Landfall is forecast for late Thursday or early Friday between Charleston, South Carolina and Norfolk, Virginia.
If it comes ashore in the region, the hurricane will be the most powerful storm since Hugo slammed into South Carolina in 1989. “Florence is going to be an extremely dangerous major hurricane,” said Jeff Masters, co-founder of Weather Underground in Ann Arbor, Michigan. “It will bring extreme wind damage and surge damage.”
The storm’s top speeds reached 140 miles (220 kilometers) per hour on Monday. It’s currently 950 miles east-southeast of Cape Fear, North Carolina. It remains a Category 4 storm, one level below the most severe storm.
“Florence is still a category 4 hurricane,” the center said Tuesday. “Re-strengthening is forecast to occur during the next day or so, and Florence is expected to be an extremely dangerous major hurricane Thursday night.”
The hurricane’s effects are already being felt in markets, with shares of home-improvement retailers Lowe’s Cos. and Home Depot Inc. rising alongside the price of hogs and cotton. Insurance companies fell as the storm’s power and path became clearer.
President Donald Trump on Monday night declared an emergency in North Carolina. That authorizes the Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Emergency Management Agency “to coordinate all disaster relief efforts,” the White House said in a statement.
The president is scheduled to receive in-person briefings from the heads of the Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Emergency Management Agency on Tuesday, following phone conversations Monday, White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said during a briefing. The White House has been in touch with the governors of several threatened states, she said.
“Lines of communication remain open and the federal government stands ready to assist,” Sanders said.
Donald J. Trump @realDonaldTrump To the incredible citizens of North Carolina, South Carolina and the entire East Coast – the storm looks very bad! Please take all necessary precautions. We have already began mobilizing our assets to respond accordingly, and we are here for you!
More than 750,000 homes in North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia with a reconstruction cost value of about $170.2 billion are at potential risk of storm surge damage from Florence based on its Category 4 status, according to CoreLogic, a property analytics firm in Irvine, California.
Some forecasts call for Florence to stall out after it strikes the coast. That would mean more flooding rains across a large part of the U.S. South, expanding the damage, according to Chuck Watson, a disaster modeler with Enki Research in Savannah, Georgia.
“The big problem is they are now talking about taking hurricane-force winds in as far as the Research Triangle,” Watson said, referring to the Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill area. “Pine trees tend to fracture at 70 miles per hour. That pine tree is going to wind up somewhere, maybe in someone’s living room.”
The storm has spurred a broad range of reactions:
The governors of South Carolina, North Carolina, Maryland and Virginia have declared emergencies. Power companies warned residents may be without power for days or weeks. Volvo Car Group is shutting its factory in South Carolina because of the storm. Natural gas demand in the U.S. Southeast may be cut by as much as half. Ports in the region are stowing empty containers and preparing to shift to generator power if needed for refrigeration. The Port of Virginia will halt terminal activities at 11:59 p.m. on Tuesday, with all vessels departing the port’s berths. Hog and poultry companies are filling feed bins, checking generators and stocking up on fuel supplies. Further east, forecasters are watching hurricanes Helene, which will probably head into the open Atlantic, Isaac and a patch of showers in the western Caribbean, which has a 60 percent chance of becoming a cyclone in the next 5 days.