Hurricane Florence, which was barely a Category 1 hurricane 24 hours ago, is now a Category 4—and it continues its steady advance toward the eastern seaboard.
The latest update from the National Hurricane Center shows the storm packing maximum sustained winds of 130 mph as of noon ET Monday, up from 105 mph at 5 a.m., making it the first major hurricane of the 2018 season. (The National Hurricane Center’s 11am update classified it as a Category 3, but data from a NOAA Hurricane Hunter showed the storm had intensified more than believed.) While the cone of uncertainty still covers most of South Carolina, North Carolina, and Virginia, prediction models of the storm indicate it’s headed toward some area between Charleston, S.C. and North Carolina’s Outer Banks.
Florence is expected to continue strengthening be an “extremely dangerous” major hurricane through Thursday. Late Sunday night, Ryan Maue, chief operating officer of forecasting service weathermodels.com, noted “I’m not really seeing anything stopping #Florence from reaching Category 5 (140-knots).”
As of 11 a.m. Monday, hurricane-force winds extended outward up to 30 miles from the center of the storm and tropical-storm-force winds extend outward up to 140 miles.
At present, the National Hurricane Center still has not issued any coastal watches or warnings (those could come as early as Tuesday morning), but North Carolina, South Carolina, and Virginia have all already declared states of emergency, letting state agencies coordinate resources to prepare for a possible impact.
Florence continues to become a better organized storm, with a familiar buzz-saw appearance from satellite shots. And that has some forecasters especially worried.
There’s a lot of time for the storm to intensify, change path or die down, though. At present, Hurricane Florence is about 1,400 miles of the coast of Charleston, which is nearly as far away as the city is from the Rocky Mountains. But experts are urging people along the eastern seaboard to be especially cautious.
Tropical storms and hurricanes have historically peaked at this time of year. NOAA—the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration—expects there to be a total of nine to 13 named storms before the season ends on Nov. 30.