11:00 p.m.: Florence downgraded to Category 1 hurricane.
As residents of the Carolinas hunkered down for the night, the National Hurricane Center continued to warn of life-threatening storm surge and hurricane conditions, but downgraded the storm to a Category 1 hurricane as top winds lessened to 90 mph. But rain, not wind, could pose the real danger: The combination of storm surge and rainfall up to 20 inches could have disastrous effects on the coastline, The Washington Post’s Capital Weather Gang reports. Along the Neuse River in Morehead City, North Carolina, storm surge of 10 feet was reported by the National Weather Service.
Over 150,000 households in North Carolina have already lost power, according to the North Carolina Department of Emergency Management. Meanwhile, communities along the Pamlico and Pungo Rivers in eastern North Carolina are already experiencing significant flooding, National Weather Service officials said.
9:19 p.m.: Why people chose this shelter to survive Florence
9:11 p.m.: Riding out the storm at an extended stay hotel
At the Extended Stay America in Midtown Savannah, evacuee Jason Medero stops by the front desk to get a dish strainer.
Medero, his wife, 15-month-old child and two dogs left Wilmington, N.C., ahead of Hurricane Florence.
“We knew we were getting out early enough and weren’t worried,” Medero said.
Updates from the National Hurricane Center today show Savannah is now out of the cone of uncertainty as Florence pushes north.
“For a 12-hour period yesterday I was nervous when it showed it was swinging south,” Medero said.
He and his family plan on hanging out with his two brothers that reside here and visiting Savannah’s historic district and Tybee Island Beach.
“We would of stayed [in Wilmington] if it wasn’t for our two dogs and 15-month-old,” Medero said.
The general manager of the hotel, Felinda Johnson, said they have gotten 15 cases of water, flashlights and perishables just in case the hurricane switches course again.
“We’ve had a lot of bookings from evacuees, but also a lot of cancellations,” Johnson said. “We had a lot of transient people leave due to being afraid even though we aren’t in the cone.”
“It’s been a rollercoaster,” said front desk clerk Lauren Muse.
Around 6 p.m. Kirsti Meeuwse, her husband and their Shih Tzu returned to the extended stay after picking up some groceries from a local store.
“We evacuated this morning,” Meeuwse said. “We held off because we weren’t sure how bad it was going to be.”
Meeuwse and her husband evacuated from Charleston, S.C., which they’ve called home for 30 years.
“We told ourselves after Hurricane Hugo we would never ride out a hurricane again,” Meeuwse said.
She and her husband decided to come to Savannah after the projections showed hazardous weather conditions reaching areas in S.C. where relatives live.
“It’s the closest to Charleston that we would be safe,” Meeuwse said. “Anything here would not nearly be what we would get if we stayed home.”
8:32 p.m.: Evacuating couple get a warm welcome in South Carolina. Their dog does, too.
Floyd and Sharon Maloney left their North Charleston home Thursday and found shelter at Friendship Baptist Church in Belvedere, S.C., just a few miles east of Augusta, Ga.
They also brought their dog, Lucy, who was welcomed with open arms as well.
“The weather was nice when we left down there — no rain or anything — but we didn’t want to wait,” Sharon said. The Maloneys live near the Ashley River and were most concerned about flooding.
They texted their daughter, Kristina, who is in Guinea serving in the Peace Corps, to let her know not to worry.
“She texted back and asked how the dog was doing,” Sharon said. Heyward Horton, pastor of Friendship since it started in 1965 in a tent across the street from its current sanctuary, said the church opened its doors during Hurricane Irma last year, housing just a few families.
This year, it is prepared for 120 to 150 people, but on Thursday it seemed unlikely that many would come. A weakened Florence is still expected to swamp Charleston and Myrtle Beach but appeared likely to take a sharp turn inland, probably causing some residents south of Charleston to consider riding it out.
Todd Glover, city administrator of North Augusta, S.C., which sits across the Savannah River from Augusta, Ga., said natural evacuation pathways probably sent most of the Charleston traffic to Columbia and most of Myrtle Beach’s evacuees to Charlotte.
Florence will bring 30 mph wind and 2-5 inches of rain to Augusta and North Augusta by Sunday, Glover said. “We’ve had larger rain events, but the wind is expected to stay strong for 48 hours, and that’s a bigger concern,” he said.
8:02 p.m.: District’s state of emergency order rescinded
D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser rescinded her state of emergency order on Thursday evening as the chances of Florence having a major impact on the capital decreased. The District had declared a state of emergency on Tuesday, along with Virginia and Maryland, ahead of the storm.
6:52 p.m.: Forecasts say nearly 5 million people will be impacted by significant rain
Dire forecasts continue about the impact Hurricane Florence will have, including for a significant swath of the Carolinas. The National Weather Service reported Thursday afternoon that it expected nearly 5 million people to be impacted by at least 10 inches of rainfall in the coming days — with some impact stretching out far to the south, north and west of those spots.
6:50 p.m.: “We’re already seeing that rapid rise”
MIAMI — It may have dropped in strength, but Hurricane Florence is in every other way behaving as expected: a huge, slow-moving, very rainy storm that is already pushing sea waters many feet above normal onto the beaches of North Carolina.
Even well before the storm was predicted to make landfall somewhere in the Carolinas, the potent threat of a dangerous storm surge was beginning to materialize.
“We’re already seeing that rapid rise,” said Ed Rappaport, deputy director of the National Hurricane Center. “The storm surge we were worried about is already starting to occur.”
Storm surge will likely continue to swamp beaches in the Carolinas throughout the weekend, even Rappaport said, as Florence moves slowly moves over the area an crawls inland. Ken Graham, the hurricane center’s director, said river flooding far inland may last a week or more. Graham said the stretch of tropical storm winds out 170 miles from the center of Florence is “staggering,” but the wind is not nearly the worst of it.
“This storm is not about the wind,” Graham said. “It’s the higher water levels. The concern is the impact of all that water piling up.”
6:44 p.m.: Seeking sanctuary at a “mega-shelter”
WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — Many coastal residents decided to take no chances, traveling to shelter far away from the brunt of the storm. Latoya Lavan and her young sons Micah and Christopher left their home in Jacksonville, N.C., on Wednesday night and drove to the state’s first “mega-shelter” at the Lawrence Joel Veterans Memorial Coliseum, where the American Red Cross opened a shelter for up to 1,000 evacuees that night.
“I was worried, because I was hearing that the surge could be 25 feet high,” Lavan said. “I was going to stay and try to go to a shelter there. There was supposed to be four shelters and then I found out they were not going to open them because they weren’t going to be strong enough to withstand the conditions. I thought, ‘If they’re not strong enough, my house isn’t going to be strong enough,’ so I decided to go.”
Her father is in staying in Jacksonville and her brother plans to stay put in Wilmington.
“I tried to get them to leave, but they’re going to stay there and weather it,” Lavan said.
Her family shared the floor of the coliseum where the Wake Forest Demon Deacons play their home basketball games with other evacuees. It’s not fancy, she said, “but they had everything we needed. It’s better than being in Jacksonville trying to hunker down and weather the storm when it’s going to be obvious devastation.”
In an adjacent building, a kennel has been set up for any pets arriving with the evacuees.
5:53 p.m.: Inside an emergency operations center
5:12 p.m.: Pentagon says it has “quite literally surrounded” areas in the forecast zone
Senior defense officials provided an update Thursday on the Pentagon’s preparations for storm response.
Air Force Gen. Terrence O’Shaughnessy, who heads U.S. Northern Command and the North American Aerospace Defense Command, and Kenneth Rapuano, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Homeland Defense and Global Security, said that about 7,000 service members, including 4,000 National Guard personnel, were positioned for the storm, and thousands more were prepared to deploy if needed.
They said the military had made sites including Fort Bragg, N.C., available to FEMA as staging areas for relief equipment and had put helicopters and high-wheeled vehicles at the ready in different sites in the Southeast for search and rescue use. Ships including the USS Kearsarge are at sea trailing the storm and will move toward shore to further support emergency response.
“We have quite literally surrounded the expected affected area” with relief supplies and response assets, O’Shaughnessy said. Other aircraft that were moved out of the impact area ahead of the storm will return once the immediate danger has passed, and could contribute to the response. O’Shaughnessy said the military was taking steps to ensure that it could move quickly once requests from state and local authorities are made.
The officials said that authorities at military facilities in the Southeast had made decisions about whether personnel should remain or evacuate and were taking steps to ensure the safety of troops and their families.
4:50 p.m.: People need to be patient, FEMA warns
Federal officials said Thursday that people living in the zone of Hurricane Florence’s impact should be patient, knowing that it may take time to respond to problems caused by the storm. FEMA administrator William “Brock” Long, during a news briefing, emphasized that people should know that it will take time for some areas to recover after Florence hits.
“This is a very dangerous storm,” he said. “We call them disasters because they break things. The infrastructure’s going to break, the power’s going to go out . . . but we are going to do everything that we can to push forward as quickly as we can to get things back up and working.”
Long vowed that officials stood ready to work together in responding to the storm.
“We are truly prepositioned as best we can be based on what we know,” Long said.
4:25 p.m.: Nuclear power plants to close
Duke Energy said it would close a pair of nuclear power reactors at its Brunswick plant on the Cape Fear River about four miles from Southport, N.C. Together, the units produce 1,870 megawatts.
The company said its procedures required closing the plants when facing a sustained period of 75 mph winds, even though the plants were designed to withstand winds of more than 200 mph. The units are 20 feet above sea level, said Rita Sipe, a company spokeswoman. She said they were designed to withstand a storm surge of 22 feet.
4:20 p.m.: “This is going to be about the water anyway.”
Steve Goldstein of the National Weather Service, at an afternoon briefing at FEMA headquarters, advised people in the path of the storm “not to get too hung up on the fact that it weakened from a category 4 to a category 2 because all the water that was already pushed out when it was a category 4 is already on its way.”
“That storm surge of 9 to 12 feet is coming. … The rainfall is definitely coming and is definitely going to occur,” he said. “This is going to be about the water anyway.”
He said that when Florence makes landfall, probably late Friday somewhere near the border between North and South Carolina, “it’s going to sit and not move very much. Between 8 o’clock Friday night and 8 o’clock Saturday morning it’s going to show very little movement.”
3:45 p.m.: South Carolina governor says: “Time is running out”
Officials in South Carolina continued sounding dire alarms Thursday as the storm edged closer, urging people to be ready for wind, rain, extended power outages, downed trees and even potential mudslides.
“This is still a very, very dangerous storm, not only on the coast but also in the interior of the state,” said South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster (R). He also warned people that the storm would be staying for a lengthy visit, rather than tearing through on its way north.
“All this rain is going to be here for about two days, starting at one side of the state and going to the other,” he said.
More than 420,000 people had evacuated their homes by Thursday afternoon, McMaster said. He bluntly told people in the evacuation zones to leave quickly, saying: “Time is running out. And remember this, once these winds start blowing . . . it will be virtually impossible for the rescuers to get in to rescue you.”
McMaster said the hurricane, which has wobbled on its forecast track this week, had demonstrated its strength and unpredictability. He also repeatedly highlighted predictions from forecasters that the storm could hover in the region, delivering an onslaught of rain.
“This is a different kind of hurricane,” he said. “This is not one that’s gonna hit the coast and pass through quickly. This is one that’s gonna hit the coast and stay, maybe for two days. And it’s going to be staying right over South Carolina.”
2:52 p.m.: Inside a shelter, impatience and song
MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. — Some evacuees who’ve been displaced since Tuesday have begun growing impatient as the storm slowly barrels toward the Carolinas, and they are becoming increasingly anxious as forecasts about where, when and how strongly the hurricane would hit have shifted this week.
“It makes me feel worried. One moment, it’s going to be real bad, next moment, it’s slowing down. We’ve been here for two days,” said 68-year-old Pat White, who evacuated from her home in North Myrtle Beach to the nearby high school Tuesday. “I want it to really start and get it over with so we know if people are going to be safe.”
Bill Berlino, 83, is skeptical of the news about the hurricane, saying it appears like weather reporters are competing to see who can issue the most dire predictions. He and his wife, Sue, 66, live in a condo in North Myrtle Beach, and Thursday he said: “We’ve wasted three days of discomfort and displacement.”
About 470 evacuees were at North Myrtle Beach High School as of Thursday afternoon, and 200 more are expected to arrive, said Principal Trevor Strawderman. The high school is only a mile from the ocean, but it has been an evacuation center during at least eight past hurricanes because it’s on elevated land, Strawderman said.
Many of the evacuees are workers from American Samoa and Jamaica who were contracted to work as housekeepers at Myrtle Beach’s waterfront hotels. Hotel companies house the workers at apartment villages and transported them by bus to the shelter, Strawderman said.
Two of them, Itagia VeaVea, 25, and Karen Tominiko, 19, aren’t as anxious as the others because they’re used to hurricanes, being from American Samoa. They’ve also been praying by singing songs in their native language. “It helps us calm down. It’s a getaway to not think about the hurricane,” Tominiko said.
2:25 p.m.: Hurricane bands cut across swath of western North Carolina
1:49 p.m.: Forecasters warn that ‘conditions will deteriorate’
Hurricane Florence brought rain and wind to North Carolina on Thursday morning, but what will happen next? According to the Capital Weather Gang, nothing good:
Conditions will deteriorate through Thursday: Starting along the coast, winds will accelerate, the rain will intensify, and the angry, agitated ocean will surge ashore. The storm’s center is expected to make landfall Friday in southeast North Carolina, which will coincide with the most severe effects. Storm surge, the rise in seawater above normally dry land at the coast, could rise a story high. On top of that, a disastrous amount of rain — 20 inches, possibly even as many as 40 — is expected to fall.
1:16 p.m.: Punishing winds likely to sweep across Southeast
Forecasters warned Thursday afternoon that “dangerous” flooding and “life-threatening storm surge” were still expected, with large swaths of coastal North Carolina likely to see between 20 and 30 inches of rain — and possibly more in some places.
Powerful winds were also still projected to sweep across the southeastern United States in the coming days, according to the National Hurricane Center. Tropical-storm-force winds could stretch as far inland as Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee and Alabama in the coming days, the center said.
12:43 p.m.: North Carolina’s governor warns residents: “Don’t relax”
North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper (D) sought to remind people in his state Thursday not to be lulled into a false sense of calm because the storm’s wind speed had declined and its forecast track had shifted south, warning that Florence still posed a mortal threat to residents.
“Don’t relax,” he said at a briefing. “Don’t get complacent. Stay on guard. This is a powerful storm that can kill. Today, the threat becomes a reality.”
Cooper spoke as the first bands from Florence began to lash the Outer Banks and elsewhere, describing a “massive storm” that he said would spread heavy rainfall across the state for days to come. Even if the storm does make landfall in South Carolina, he noted: “We’re on the wrong side of this thing. This storm will bring destruction to North Carolina.”
Cooper pointed to the state’s history with Hurricane Matthew, a destructive storm that marched up the coast and caused heavy flooding in North Carolina.
“Remember that Hurricane Matthew didn’t even make landfall in North Carolina, and look what it did to us,” he said.
The storm has ground much of life across North Carolina to a halt, closing dozens of school districts as well as nearly all schools in the University of North Carolina system, officials said. Cooper said that about 7,000 people in the state have headed to 108 open shelters, with additional facilities expected to follow.
12:25 p.m..: A view of Hurricane Florence from space
11:52 a.m.: Staying put despite evacuation orders
MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. — The hotels that line Ocean Boulevard by the shore are mostly closed, and some have been boarded up. But some residents who live nearby have chosen to stay despite the mandatory evacuation order and warnings from the governor that in those evacuation zones, help is unlikely to come once the storm starts.
Staying is a necessity, said neighbors Kathy Sexton and Kelly Britt, who both live in two-story townhouses a few blocks from Ocean Boulevard.
“I’m staying for my job. I’m in the medical field,” said Britt, 50, a medical secretary at an urgent care clinic. She said she’s scheduled to work Saturday, and she needs to be ready to go to work if the clinic is open.
Sexton, 56, said she had thought about staying with relatives who live six hours away, but the long drive would be detrimental to her elderly mother, whose damaged spine keeps her from being able to sit for extended periods. She would’ve booked a hotel further inland, she said, but she couldn’t afford the cost. She would’ve stayed at one of the emergency shelters, but pets aren’t allowed there, she said. Sexton has two 15-year-old cats that both need medication, and she said there’s no place to board them. Even if there was one, she doesn’t trust anyone else to take care of them.
“They’re like family. There’s just no way,” she said. Like others who have chosen to stay, the two neighbors don’t think the storm will be as catastrophic as news reports suggest. National news reports, they say, seem to have hyped it up.
11:28 a.m.: Florence begins lashing North Carolina
Hurricane Florence’s center is still well off the coast, but the storm’s impact is already being felt in North Carolina.
“Heavy” bands of rain with tropical-storm-force winds have begun “spreading across the Outer Banks and coastal southeastern North Carolina,” according to the National Hurricane Center. In a late-morning update, the hurricane center said the storm was about 145 miles from Wilmington, N.C., at about 11 a.m.
While Florence has been downgraded to a Category 2 storm from a Category 4, that measurement only deals with the wind speed — and water poses a much greater threat. Storm surge and flooding are the leading causes of death from hurricanes in the United States. Forecasts warned that Florence was still poised to create dangerous storm surge, with water potentially reaching as high as 13 feet in parts of North Carolina, and could dump more than three feet of rain in some parts of the Carolinas.
In the Outer Banks on Thursday morning, seawater could be seen washing ashore and flooding roadways.
The storm’s center is forecast to approach the coasts of the Carolinas later Thursday.
10:55 a.m.: Waiting for Florence to arrive
WILMINGTON, N.C. — It’s a day of waiting along the North Carolina coast as overcast skies and a growing breeze warn that Hurricane Florence is on its way. By 8 a.m. Thursday, people at one of New Hanover County’s five shelters were outdoors, smoking and watching the weather, and trying to control their anticipation and fears.
“I guess it’s the unknown about what’s going to happen,” said Jack Ashby Jr., 60, of Wilmington. He sat outside Trask Middle School and plans to spend his day talking to friends and playing cards. His home is old and he worries about flooding. “I’d rather sleep in my own bed, if you know what I mean.”
He was on his own, but Shannon Soto, 42, brought her three teenage girls and her 2-week-old grandson, who was born prematurely, from their trailer home.
“He’s probably the youngest one in there,” she said. “All he is doing is crying because he wants constantly to be held. Between him and the storm . . . no one is going to be sleeping tonight. “
Richard L. Ford, 34, has seen hurricanes before, even though he lives in Denver. He works “in the tree trade,” he said, clearing downed timber after storms. He found jobs after Hurricane Harvey in Houston and Hurricane Irma in Florida and hopes for a similar payday in North Carolina, where he’s been staying with his aunt until she decided to evacuate.
“I’m not worried at all,” he said, inhaling a drag from his cigarette. “I find it funny that the storm of hysteria is bigger than the storm itself. “
10:40 a.m.: ‘The water is the devil’
TYBEE ISLAND, Ga. — For Virginia Ward, who manages business operations for the island’s Crab Shack Restaurant, the storm means anxiety, even with her meditation.
“I am anxious because it has taken $40,000 to get my cottage back up after Hurricane Irma,” said Ward, 73. That storm last year dumped more than two and a half feet of water into her cottage.
Ward isn’t leaving, though. She said she knows when it is time to evacuate Tybee Island if there is a hurricane — she evacuated once, for Hurricane David in 1975 — and this isn’t one of them.
“The water is the devil,” she said about hurricane water damage and storm surges. “I am not foolhardy, but I am not going to run the first time someone mentions a hurricane.”
Jack Flanigan, who co-owns the restaurant, shrugged his shoulders when asked about Florence and suggested the storm is unremarkable.
“People who live on Tybee Island don’t evacuate too quickly,” said Flanigan, 85. “Evacuation is a chore.”
Tybee Island is a barrier island and small city near Savannah. It’s known for its wide, sandy beaches, including South Beach, with a pier and pavilion. The island’s north is home to Fort Screven, which has 19th-century concrete gun batteries and the Tybee Island Light Station and Museum. The 18th-century lighthouse, which still functions, has been rebuilt many times.
10:15 a.m.: Getting in one last day of surfing before the storm
9:30 a.m.: A regular coffee run and worries about the flooding
KINSTON, N.C. — The McDonald’s off the main highway here was bustling Wednesday as travelers from the coast passed through this small town on their way further inland. But early Thursday morning, Mack Lewis was the only one at a table.
He comes to this McDonald’s every day, and it was too soon to tell how Hurricane Florence would disrupt his regular coffee run. Lewis, a retired electrician, said that the storm isn’t the main concern for Kinston. It’s the flooding that comes days, even a week later, that wreaks the most havoc on a town that must wait for the nearby Neuse River to rise.
From the town’s flagship barbecue joint, King’s Restaurant, to a family-owned tire shop a few miles away, Lewis said there’s a weight felt by business owners when they have to pack up their goods, wipe the mud off their floors and strip the sheetrock: “I never thought I’d be back in here doing this again.”
But Lewis said that many in Kinston don’t have a choice. Older businesses and older residents have nowhere to go. The economy is struggling in a place with “more homes than there are businesses.” “It’s almost a struggle to keep going, the way things are” Lewis said.
Hours before Florence was expected to begin lashing the coast, Lewis was in no rush to leave his booth. He lives alone, but he wasn’t worried about keeping himself busy during the storm. He gave the only generator he has to his granddaughter. And he said the damage in Kinston would still not be as bad as the devastation that lingers one year after the hurricanes in Puerto Rico and Texas.
“Best-case scenario, it takes a couple of weeks to get back to normal,” Lewis said. At the counter, a young man grabbed his to-go bag and thanked the cashier.
“Be safe, buddy,” he said as he turned away.
“You too,” the cashier replied.
8:30 a.m.: Florence could park offshore, which ‘would not be good’
MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. — Forecasters warn that when Hurricane Florence nears land, it could shift to low gear and then meander unpredictably along the coast, sucking energy from the warm ocean as it pounds coastal communities.
Florence could potentially drift toward South Carolina while remaining just offshore, as if looking for a port. A long stretch of the Carolinas remains inside the storm track’s “cone of uncertainty,” and experts caution that there are additional dangers posed by a storm that may park itself in one area for an extended time.
“It could sit there as a Category 3 or 4 hurricane right offshore for a day,” said Brian McNoldy, a senior research associate at the University of Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science and a contributor to The Washington Post’s Capital Weather Gang. “That would not be good. If it gets close to the coast and just hits the coast or is just slightly inland, but then just sits there, it’s like pressing pause at the most violent part of the landfall.”