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Florence could bring major inland flooding, and water kills more people than wind, experts say

Tropical storm Florence heads toward Carolinas followed by Isaac and Helene

A loop of NOAA satellite imagery shows Tropical Storm Florence heading toward the Carolinas followed by Isaac and Helene. Florence could hit the Carolinas as a major hurricane as early as Wednesday.
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A loop of NOAA satellite imagery shows Tropical Storm Florence heading toward the Carolinas followed by Isaac and Helene. Florence could hit the Carolinas as a major hurricane as early as Wednesday.

As Hurricane Florence bears down on the East Coast, it’s not only Carolina coastal areas that should be preparing.

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The National Hurricane Center, along with local branches of the National Weather Service and North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper are warning that the biggest dangers from Florence facing the Carolinas now are dangerous ocean conditions and storm surge flooding on the coast and freshwater flooding from “prolonged, heavy rain inland,” according to the NHC.

After 2016’s Hurricane Matthew devastated inland areas of the state, Cooper said people need to be prepared for inland flooding from heavy rain.

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“Experience has shown us that storms and heavy wind and rain can affect the entire state, so we must all be alert and ready,” he said in a news release on Sunday.

To make matters worse, this summer is going into the record books as one of the wettest yet for parts of the East Coast, according to the August 2018 climate report from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

Previous hurricanes, including Matthew and 1999’s Floyd, which drowned large swathes of Eastern North Carolina, brought torrential rain or even stalled out over areas causing massive flooding, bridge and road washouts and long power outages.

And water — not wind — is responsible for most deaths when it comes to hurricanes and tropical storms.

Flooding from rain is responsible for more than four times the number of deaths as wind in the United States from tropical cyclone activity, according to a National Hurricane Center (NHC) study.

This is looking more and more like a life threatening situation,” National Weather Service warning coordination meteorologist Nick Petro said in a briefing on Florence Sunday. “Folks, this is it, big time. Big time storm. Be ready for potentially worse-case scenarios here.”

Forecast models showing tracks for the storm — either a line or a cone-shaped path — show where the center of the storm is headed, but NWS-Raleigh forecaster James Morrow said Sunday that “impacts often go well outside the center of this cone.”

“Rainfall is going to be a major issue, especially for inland portions of North Carolina,” Morrow said.

Hurricane Florence swept into the Carolinas in 2018 and caused extensive damage in both states. Florence set a record for the costliest storm to hit the Carolinas. Here's a look at other costly hurricanes.

As of Sunday, the National Weather Service expected anywhere from 2 inches of rain in the western half of the state to more than 7 inches in the central and eastern sections.

Even seven days from Sunday, forecasts show what could be remnants of the storm still over the Carolinas.

“We’re only looking at maybe just a fraction of what potential the rainfall could be and there could be much more than this,” Morrow said.

The latest path Sunday afternoon showed the storm hitting the Carolinas squarely, and Florence is moving slowly.

“A lot of the models show Florence slowing down, if not stalling over central and eastern North Carolina,” Petro said. “If that happens, you can double or triple these (rainfall) numbers, easily.”

The storm as of Sunday afternoon was about 400 miles wide, Petro said.

“If you put it in the middle of North Carolina, it would cover ... most of the state,” he said.

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