Waves under a pier in Kill Devil Hills, N. C., Wednesday, Sept. 12, 2018, if the Hurricane Florence approaches the east coast. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)
WASHINGTON – Strangely enough, the poet of the Hurricane Florence gets to the land of the cloudy future.
Usually when a storm is approaching the coast, forecasters can tell us with increasing accuracy where it will hit and who will get walloped. But not Florence.
That is because the weather systems that push and pull a storm disappear as Florence nears land around the border between North and South Carolina. The storm is expected to slow, stall and then maybe wander close to the Carolina shore as he approaches the coast Thursday, Friday and Saturday.
“This is a horrific nightmare storm from a meteorological perspective,” University of Georgia meteorology professor Marshall Shepherd said. “We have simply never seen anything like this. … This is just a strange bird.”
Florence is becoming more and more a threat for more people, now including some in Georgia — in more ways with a large dose of uncertainty at the top. More stalls, the more it rains. The National Hurricane Center calls for 20-to 30-cm (50 to 75 centimeters) of rain in North Carolina, with spots up to 40 inches (100 cm). And the more it hovers just off shore — a distinct possibility — the more potentially deadly storm surge pushes on the shore.
Forecasters warn Hurricane Florence was able to hesitate just off the coast for days, to rebuke him for a longer stretch of the coast, for the push from the interior.
“For a meandering storm, the biggest concern — as we saw with Harvey — is the huge amount of precipitation,” said Chris Landsea, chief of the tropical analysis and forecast branch at the National Hurricane Center.
“It’s definitely a challenge forecasting the precise effects, when the exact track will not be known until the day before,” Landsea said.
And there is “a huge difference” in the size and type of damage Florence is doing if it continues to 50 miles (80 kilometers) from the coast versus heading inland immediately, Landsea said.
The storm weakened to a Category 3 hurricane Wednesday, and forecasters expect it to weaken further as it nears the coast.
The storm has pretty much followed the forecast track through now, but the issue will be on Thursday or Friday, as it nears the coast and the steering currents collapse.
“It’s the coming roaring up to the coast Thursday evening and say: ‘I’m not sure I really want to do this and I take a tour of the coast and decide where I want to go in the country,” says Jeff Masters, meteorology director of the private Weather Underground.
Send currents around the clear weather and high pressure systems and stormy low pressure systems — redirect hurricanes, with the clear weather systems acting as walls that storms have to go around. And the projections show that currents are not only giving the storm any sense of direction in a day or so.
Masters said, there is a tug-of-war between two clear sky and high pressure systems — one from the coast and one over Michigan — and the lake of the Great Lakes wins, the more southern of Florence.
Computer simulations — in particular the often star-run of the European model — push the storm further to the south, even in South Carolina and Georgia. The hurricane center also adjusted its projected orbit, but remained north of what most computer models showed to prove the continuity with previous forecasts.
Private meteorologist Ryan Maue of Weathermodels.com in an e-mail called the overnight European computer simulation “is a different model run for the ages. So many weird/strange solutions — but that is what happens when the steering currents collapse.”
The European computer model has Florence a rose for the landing and float for a few days from the coast.
If the European model is true or the general trend continues, the University of Miami hurricane researcher Brian McNoldy said: ‘this is extremely bad news, such as the sweeping of a land in sight out over hundreds of miles of the coast, particularly the storm surge. The rainfall is and continues to be a major threat of the whole area.”
And if Florence were not enough, other storms that threaten people. Tropical Storm Olivia has made landfall in the Hawaiian islands, the Philippines are bracing for the powerful typhoon Mangkhut, and the Tropical Storm Isaac is approaching the Leeward Islands. Hurricane Helene threatens no-one in the Atlantic ocean.
Follow Seth Borenstein on Twitter: @borenbears . His work can be found here .
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