Tropical Storm Florence is expected to become “a dangerous major hurricane” and affect the United States’ southeast coast in the coming week, the National Hurricane Center said in forecast updates Saturday.
The storm, churning in the Atlantic 790 miles southeast of Bermuda, is forecast to rapidly intensify and as of 11 p.m. Saturday was close to returning to hurricane status, forecasters said. The center warned that a large area of the East Coast — especially from Florida to North Carolina — is at risk.
Residents should closely monitor Florence’s progress and heed government officials’ notices, forecasters said. Any potential landfall is not expected to occur until Thursday or Friday.
North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper signed an executive order Friday declaring a state of emergency for the entire state. With word of the storm’s growing intensity, South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster issued a similar declaration for his state on Saturday afternoon, as did Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam. The declarations clear the way for ramping up storm preparations.
The hurricane center, in its advisory Saturday night, said the storm was moving west at about 6 mph. A NOAA hurricane hunter aircraft found Florence to be “a little stronger,” with maximum sustained winds increasing to near 70 mph from 65 mph earlier in the day.
Rapid strengthening is likely to begin on Sunday, with Florence potentially becoming a major hurricane by Monday, forecasters said.
That means a Category 3 storm or higher.
Still, the center continues to say that “it’s too soon to determine the exact timing, location and magnitude of those impacts.” In coming days, the storm’s path “will depend heavily on the position and strength of the blocking high pressure that is expected to develop north of Bermuda” and over the eastern United States.
The revving up will come as Florence moves into an area with much warmer waters, which fuel storms, and lessening wind shear, which can tear them apart. That’s an environment “that favors significant and possibly even rapid strengthening,” according to the hurricane center.
Long Island is not predicted to get a direct hit. However, the hurricane center said people living on or near the East Coast should be monitoring the storm and making sure their hurricane plans are in place.
Tim Morrin, National Weather Service meteorologist in Upton, said Saturday that, given the distant time frame, the chances of Florence tracking farther to the north have lessened but cannot be viewed as “out of the picture.” Steering currents could change and result in a shift in the track.
A main meteorological player to watch in coming days is that “extremely strong” ridge of high pressure expected to form over the Atlantic, said Jase Bernhardt, assistant professor of geology, environment and sustainability at Hofstra University. That would be a key factor in preventing Florence from tracking northwest and then curving back out over the ocean.
Such a strong ridge is out of character for this time of year, he said, and is the type of topic to be discussed Oct. 3 at Hofstra’s first hurricane symposium, which he is directing.
Bernhardt noted that until “all the players actually develop,” other possibilities regarding the storm’s behavior cannot be ruled out.
Regardless, “very large waves are likely locally for the end of the week,” said News 12 Long Island meteorologist Bruce Avery.
Already, large swells from the storm were hitting Bermuda and were to affect parts of the East Coast during the weekend, the hurricane center said.