“My family was in danger!” exclaimed a junior at San Lorenzo Valley High School. Hurricane warnings were issued September 4th as ferocious Hurricane Florence flew relentlessly toward the U.S. East Coast; The massive storm threatened record rains and historic flooding, causing more than 1 million people to flee the anticipated devastation.
At 5 p.m. ET, September 4th, the National Hurricane Center issued hurricane warnings for portions of the South and North Carolina coasts as the 140-mph Category 4 storm crawled closer to shore.
The first rain bands reached the Carolinas and Virginia the following day, September 5th. Hurricane-force winds reached the mainland by the evening of that same day. North Carolina was the most likely target for landfall, but states of emergency were still declared in South Carolina, Virginia, Maryland and Washington, D.C.
In the beginning, at 140 mph, Florence was a Category 4 storm out of a possible Category 5 based on the Saffir-Simpson hurricane wind scale. The hurricane center warned that the storm would strengthen and be an “extremely dangerous, major hurricane” through the 5th, but what followed seemed like just a heavy rainstorm.
Sarah Jane Murphy, a junior at San Lorenzo Valley High School says, “When I originally heard about the hurricane I was nervous for my family because the areas it was going to hit was where they lived, such as my grandparents, cousins, aunts, uncles, and so on. My aunt, her husband, and sons live in North Carolina, but they were all okay in the end because they live inland. My grandpa and grandma live in South Carolina and weren’t too stressed. Even with the warning they still went on their daily walks. In the end, everyone was okay and there was no damage.”
A “major” hurricane is one with sustained winds of more than 110 mph. Any Category 3, 4 or 5 hurricane is classified as a major hurricane. Florence produced the total rainfall accumulations of 15 to 20 inches in some areas and even 30 inches in isolated locations along the storm’s track.
The storm was about 785 miles east-southeast of Cape Fear, North Carolina, heading west-northwest at 17 mph.
Tropical storm force winds were expected to reach the coastline as early as the night of September 3rd, at which point all outdoor preparations had to be completed. Extremely dangerous hurricane force winds ruined coastal locations the following days after. Models came into agreement that a northward turn before reaching the United States was unlikely and that a building high-pressure zone north of the storm would cause it to slow or stall once it reaches the coast or shortly thereafter.
A big concern of the storm stalling was how some areas were seeing feet of rain, especially when the downpours focused over the higher terrain in western North Carolina and southwestern and central Virginia.
In the aftermath of Hurricane Florence, the North Carolina Coastal Federation issued a strong warning for residents to stay out of the ocean and Intracoastal waters. In a statement, the federation said “massive stormwater runoff” from Florence has resulted in “elevated levels” of potentially harmful bacteria. The elevated levels were detected “in and around Wrightsville Beach,” the North Carolina Coastal Federation said in the statement.
Bacteria-infected water is not uncommon following a tropical storm or hurricane. Shortly before Florence hit, experts warned drinking water could be also be contaminated by the overflow of manure pits, coal ash pits, water treatment plants, and other sources.
Specifically, when manure pits become flooded, the sewage can flow into other areas and threaten the public water supply with a variety of bacteria and disease-causing microorganisms. As for ocean and coastal waters, officials will tell locals when the water is safe again for swimming and other recreational activities.
Many on the east coast had experienced a storm as strong or stronger than this so they were likely all prepared, but hurricane Florence sadly still took the lives of forty-seven people, thirty-six of which in North Carolina, nine in South Carolina, and two in Virginia.
by Jacinda Maccool
Photo Source: National Public Radio, Inc