More than 5 million people were under hurricane warnings or watches on the U.S. East Coast on Tuesday as Hurricane Florence barreled toward the Carolinas with Category 4 winds and an expected landfall Friday, according to the National Weather Service.
Motorists streamed inland on highways converted into one-way evacuation routes as about 1.7 million people in three states were warned to get out of the way of Florence, the Associated Press reported.
“This storm is a monster,” North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper said. “It’s big and it’s vicious. It is an extremely dangerous, life-threatening, historic hurricane.”
At 11 p.m., Florence was about 355 miles southwest of Bermuda and 670 miles east-southeast of Cape Fear, N.C., according to the National Hurricane Center. Top sustained winds remained at 140 mph.
Meanwhile, Tropical Storm Isaac continued to weaken slightly as it moved toward the Caribbean. Top winds dropped to 65 mph at 11 p.m.
A tropical storm warning was issued for Martinique, Guadeloupe and Dominica. Tropical storm conditions are expected on those islands by Wednesday night or early Thursday.
Elsewhere in the Atlantic, Hurricane Helene is still packing 100-mph winds but it should soon fade away as it moves into the open ocean.
According to the hurricane center, gradual weakening is likely over the next couple of days, and Helene is expected to become a tropical storm by Thursday. Helene is forecast to accelerate and turn toward the northeast by the end of the week.
UPDATE 8 p.m.: Hurricane Florence remains at 140 mph as it threatens the U.S. East Coast with deadly storm surge and heavy rainfall. At 8 p.m., the storm was about 725 miles east-southeast of Cape Fear, N.C., according to the National Hurricane Center.
Storm surge and hurricane watches and warnings are in effect for the South Carolina and North Carolina coasts.
On the current forecast track, the hurricane center predicts, the center of Florence will move over the southwestern Atlantic between Bermuda and the Bahamas through Wednesday, then approach the coast of North Carolina or South Carolina in the hurricane warning area on Thursday and Friday.
Strengthening is forecast tonight and Wednesday. While some weakening is expected on Thursday, Florence is forecast to be an extremely dangerous major hurricane through landfall.
STORM 2018: CHECK THE INTERACTIVE TRACKING MAP
Meanwhile, Tropical Storm Isaac began to lose some of its organization as it moved quickly westward about 610 miles east of the Lesser Antilles.
Isaac is forecast to move near or over the central Lesser Antilles on Thursday, into the eastern Caribbean on Thursday night, then into the central Caribbean by the weekend.
At 8 p.m., Isaac’s maximum sustained winds were 70 mph, just below hurricane strength. The storm is expected to be near hurricane strength when it moves through the central Lesser Antilles, with some weakening forecast later on Friday and Saturday.
UPDATE 5 p.m.: Hurricane Florence’s wind speeds increased to 140 mph this afternoon as hurricane and storm surge warnings go up along the South Carolina and North Carolina coast.
A hurricane warning means tropical storm-force winds are expected in the area within 36 hours.
As of 5 p.m., Florence was about 785 miles east-southeast of Cape Fear, N.C., and moving west-northwest at 17 mph.
While Florence is expected to reach wind speeds of 150 mph, the forecast calls for it to decrease to a 115 mph Category 3 hurricane near landfall.
UPDATE 2 p.m.: Hurricane Florence maintained 130 mph wind speeds this afternoon, but is getting better organized and growing in size.
National Hurricane Center forecasters during the intermediate 2 p.m. advisory said hurricane-force winds have expanded outward up to 60 miles with tropical storm-force winds reaching out 170 miles from the storm’s center.
There were no changes to the storm surge watches and warnings for the Carolina’s. Forecasters are predicting between a 2-to 12-foot surge depending on where the storm comes ashore and if the peak surge occurs during high tide.
An area of disturbed weather over the extreme northwestern Caribbean could become a tropical depression Thursday as it moves across the western Gulf of Mexico.
Forecasters gave it a 50 percent chance of formation over the next 48 hours and a 70 percent chance of formation over five days.
If it becomes a tropical storm, it would be named Joyce.
UPDATE 11 a.m.: Hurricane Florence lost some wind speed this morning, but is expected to restrengthen today as it crosses warm water as it stays on a track toward the coast.
The National Hurricane Center estimates Florence is a low-end Cat 4 storm with 130 mph winds, but will regain 140 mph power, and possibly grow to have wind speeds of 150 mph.
There has been no significant change in Florence’s track, which has it making landfall late Thursday or early Friday somewhere along the coastline of the Carolina’s.
Tropical Storm Isaac has triggered new watches for Caribbean islands.
Hurricane watches have also been issued for Guadeloupe, Dominica and Martinique, and a tropical storm watch has been issued for Antigua and Montserrat.
The National Hurricane Center this morning issued hurricane and storm surge watches for much of the North Carolina and South Carolina coastline, with Florence expected to be a Category 4 hurricane at landfall late Thursday or early Friday.
As of the 5 a.m. advisory, Florence was a 140-mph storm about 975 miles east-southeast of Cape Fear, N.C. It was moving west-northwest at 15 mph.
A special update issued at 7:45 a.m. said Hurricane Hunters found Florence had weakened to 130 mph, but is expected to restrengthen later today.
“These fluctuations are normal. There is nothing to stop this in the atmosphere from it staying a major hurricane,” said Ken Graham, director of the National Hurricane Center.
STORM 2018: CHECK THE INTERACTIVE TRACKING MAP
Forecasters said Florence’s wind speeds could fluctuate as it nears the coast, but that it is expected to remain a dangerous Category 4 hurricane.
A hurricane watch means tropical storm force winds are expected within the next 48 hours.
While storm surge and wind damage are major concerns, the threat of inland flooding from torrential rains is increasing as the storm is forecast to meander over the eastern portions of the coast.
The Weather Prediction Center is forecasting as much as 20 inches of rain over part of North Carolina through Tuesday.
“That’s the really scary scenario with Florence,” said Michael Bell, an associate professor for science at Colorado State University. “Certainly, we’re not expecting a Hurricane Harvey, which was almost eight days of rain. But even a few days of tropical rainfall can cause flooding.”
According to Colorado State University hurricane researcher Phil Klotzbach, the last time there was a storm as strong as Florence as far north as it is was 2010’s Hurricane Earl.
While mid-August through mid-October is the busiest period for Atlantic hurricanes, Sept. 10 is the pinnacle — a time when warm water and low wind shear conspire in earnest to turn tropical waves into menacing storms.
“It sure is living up to that distinction this year,” Klotzbach said Monday in a social media post. “Currently we have three hurricanes and two other areas given a medium chance of development in the next five days.”
Isaac fell to a tropical storm late Monday, but is expected to restrengthen briefly before weakening again.
The disturbance south of Cuba was given a 60 percent chance of development this morning with a tropical depression expected to form Thursday or Friday.
Regardless of development, forecasters warned that heavy rainfall is possible in Texas and Louisiana from the system.
In the northeastern Atlantic, a non-tropical area of low pressure is forecast to form along a trough of low pressure located over the northeastern Atlantic. It has a 50 percent chance of development over five days.
The next names on the 2018 storm list are Joyce and Kirk.