Florence may effectively ‘rototill’ Carolina coast with devastating wind and surge

Hurricane Florence is giving forecasters plenty to worry about. This giant symmetrical storm continues to grow in size and churn steadily toward the Carolina coast.

The latest satellite frames as we move into Wednesday evening show a well-organized storm that appears to be growing stronger as it approaches warm Gulf Stream waters.

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

Track trouble

Weak steering winds near the coast are triggering mercurial track forecasts. Most U.S. forecast models have now trended toward the southwest solution the European model showed Tuesday. That scenario would bring Florence to the coast near Wilmington, N.C., Friday. Then a left-hand turn would spin the destructive storm southwest along the South Carolina coast.

Here’s the latest official National Hurricane Center track map as of this writing.

Giant storm 

Not only is a major hurricane about to rake the Carolina coast, but Florence has roughly doubled in size over the past 24 hours or so. And a bigger storm carries a bigger storm surge. In fact, Florence is much bigger than Hurricane Hugo that decimated the South Carolina Coast in 1989.

Rototilling 

I’m not being flip with the term, but rototilling is a pretty good analogy to what is increasingly likely to happen from near Wilmington through Myrtle Beach, S.C., over the next 72 hours. As the storm spins southwest along the coast, it will pull an extended period of hurricane-force winds and damaging storm surge in tow.

The European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts model has dragged other models and official forecasts closer to its lead. The latest solution spins a path of wind and surge destruction from near Wilmington southwest through Myrtle Beach and potentially Charleston, S.C.

European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts model, via tropical tidbits

Devastating storm surge 

The latest track scenarios create a widespread and devastating surge and wind damage scenario over a wider area. Typically hurricanes move more directly into shore limiting the width of damage along the coast. Florence is now likely to skip along a much wider area of the coast.

Multiple barrier islands with pricey real estate are likely to see surge overwash with 20-foot waves on top of the surge. So the zone from Morehead City through Topsail Beach, Wilmington, all the way through Myrtle Beach is now likely in the damage zone.

Storm surge forecast via Coastal Emergency Risk Assessment at Louisiana State University.

Visualizing surge

It’s hard to visualize what a 6- to 10-foot storm surge can do. The Weather Channel has a great visualization of what residents are facing along the Carolina coast in the coming days.

Here is the aftermath of a 14-foot storm surge on barrier islands from Hurricane Hugo in 1989.

Unprecedented southwest track

If the southwest track comes to pass, it may be an unprecedented jog for a hurricane along the east coast. Weather Underground’s Jeff Masters has a great write-up here.

It’s crunch time now. We’re about to witness what could be one of the most devastating and costliest hurricanes in U.S. history.