25 Podcasts To Get You Through The Charleston Bridge Traffic

Barreling toward North Carolina with 100 mph winds, Hurricane Florence slowed to a crawl Thursday night as forecasters predicted that "life-threatening" surges and "catastrophic flash flooding" could devastate areas along the storm's still-uncertain path.

Florence had the makings of one of the most intense storms to hit the Carolinas since Hurricane Hugo. But Hugo sped like a cannon ball into South Carolina. Florence was poised to sit over North Carolina and then inch southwest into the Pee Dee.

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> +5 Hurricane Florence weakens to Category 1 as it heads towards landfall in NC

Hurricane Florence weakens to Category 1 as it heads towards landfall in NC"> Hurricane Florence weakens to Category 1 as it heads towards landfall in NC

Federal meteorologists couldn't rule out that Florence might make landfall farther south. Three computer models still indicated the storm would straddle the South Carolina coastline before turning in closer to Charleston.

Loaded with moisture, Florence's swirling winds were expected to dump the kind of rain Texas saw when Hurricane Harvey stalled there in 2017.

Some areas between Wilmington, N.C., and North Myrtle Beach could see more than 20 inches, with as much as 40 inches possible in some areas, the National Weather Service said. By 6 p.m., some private weather stations near Morehead City, N.C., had recorded 10 inches of rain before going offline, Weather Underground reported.

By Thursday night, tropical storm warnings were in effect in Charleston, Berkeley and Dorchester counties, meaning winds greater than 39 mph would arrive by morning. Florence's eye was 25 miles wide, waxing and waning as it wrestled with dry air on its periphery.

The extent of the deluge also was in flux, dependent on the exact twists Florence takes through the state. As the first reports of damage in North Carolina came in, the question remained: How bad would it really get?

The waiting place

Florence began as a wave of air off Africa on Aug. 30, gathering force as it spun across the Atlantic until it formed an eye large enough to be seen from space. By Wednesday, it was a monster, with winds generating waves eight-stories tall and a wind field as large as North and South Carolina combined. By Thursday, this mass of wind and waves had North Carolina in its sights.

About 1.1 million people were under orders to evacuate, and as the first bands of the storm arrived, some were still racing to find shelter or hunker down for what might come. 

In North Myrtle Beach, Maurice Floyd originally planned to stay home. The surge there was expected to be 3 to 6 feet, and standing on his porch Thursday, he wondered aloud whether it would reach their first-floor apartment, just 100 yards from the dunes.

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> +13 'It's in God's hands,' Myrtle Beach-area residents say as Florence nears

'It's in God's hands,' Myrtle Beach-area residents say as Florence nears"> 'It's in God's hands,' Myrtle Beach-area residents say as Florence nears

Grand Strand residents on Thursday rushed to complete last-minute preparations, pack coolers with ice or leave their homes entirely as Hurricane Florence spiraled on their doorstep. 

Looking in both directions down his street, he saw his neighborhood was empty now. He doubted whether the X-shaped duct tape would keep his windows from shattering. As his girlfriend, Michelle Bannister, loaded a suitcase and beer into their SUV, he said, “No one can hold back this kind of water and rain. The water is going to be terrifying, so the best thing to do is get out."

At Buoy’s Beach Bar and Grill on South Ocean Boulevard, Weldon Boyd began to imagine what might unfold: The expected surge would fill the bar, marking the yellow exterior somewhere between 3 and 4 feet. He said he'd closed the business Monday — great way to end the summer, he said facetiously.

He took a swig from an orange soda. "I don't know what else to do. We've done everything we can. At this point, it's in God's hands."

Farther south, the Charleston area had a vacant feel. The usual traffic jams were absent. Some businesses had boarded up their windows, but most had closed.

An exception was the Waffle House on Long Point Road in Mount Pleasant. A steady stream of hungry customers flowed in for the “limited” hurricane menu. A veteran Waffle House waitress with “Kandi” on her name tag regaled diners with stories of Hurricane Hugo in September of 1989.

"I was working at the Waffle House on Savannah Highway back then,” she said. “We stayed open all night, but there were only three of us that would come to work. I remembered I laid down crying on the floor."

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Weldon Boyd packs sandbags around a door to his business, Buoy's Beach Bar and Grill, on South Ocean Boulevard in North Myrtle Beach on Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018, as Hurricane Florence approached the South Carolina coastline. Andrew Knapp/Staff

The winds come

Late Thursday afternoon, Florence churned over the warm flow of the Gulf Stream, potentially giving the storm an extra shot of juice before it made landfall near Wilmington.

Flowing roughly parallel to the coast, the Gulf Stream is a 50-mile wide river in the sea that carries vast amounts of heat from the tropics into the northern Atlantic. By some estimates, the current carries the equivalent heat energy of a million nuclear power plants.

Florence feasted on this heat just as it began to collide with a less dramatic weather system. Stretching from the Great Plains into the Atlantic, it met Florence like a Sumo wrestler.

Florence slowed from a 15 mph clip to less than 5 mph early Thursday night. Forecasters predicted an even more dramatic slowdown by early Friday.

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Family Kingdom amusement park rides — including the Hurricane — sit idle in Myrtle Beach on Thursday, September 13, 2018 in anticipation of Hurricane Florence. Wade Spees/Staff

As it slowed, its winds decreased somewhat, though its wind field expanded.

"We have tropical storm force winds 170 miles from the center on one side," said Neil Dixon, a forecaster with the National Weather Service in Charleston.

But the storm’s energy hadn’t decreased, he added. Rather, it had dispersed. A similar pattern happened in Hurricane Irma last year and led to widespread damage far away from the storm's eye, including a 4-foot surge in Charleston.

During press conference Thursday, Charleston Mayor John Tecklenburg cautioned that while Florence had lessened in intensity, it remained a dangerous storm.

“It’s been kind of a roller coaster ride, hasn’t it?” 

Florence's fury

Late Thursday, the storm's outer bands pounded North Carolina's Outer Banks. Waves crashed through dunes on Nags Head and covered roads with blankets of sand. By 9 p.m., Cape Lookout recorded a 106-mph gust.

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Surfers at Folly Beach hit the waves as Hurricane Florence approaches the Carolina coast on Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018. Brad Nettles/Staff

Moving south, a foot of rain fell on Atlantic Beach. The water rose quickly on Topsail Beach, with a few residents who stayed capturing footage of waves rolling under their raised homes.

A six-foot surge poured into New Bern. By 4 p.m., the winds had picked up at the abandoned marinas near Wrightsville Beach. The gusts rocked tall blades of sea grass. Boat owners, apparently all gone, left their vessels tied up. A crowd gathered near the empty Dockside restaurant as the rain spitting from gray clouds turned to showers.

The bar was closed, so people brought their own packs of Modelo and Bud Light. They watched the bay water rise nearly overtop the docks of the finger piers. A few birds chirped from nearby trees but didn’t leave their nests.

The surge of ocean water could top off at 13 feet above ground level in some areas.

“It’s quite frightening,” said Steven Pfaff, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Wilmington.

Expecting a direct hit, the city on Wednesday closed its lone bridge to the beach. Wilmington was under siege.

Holding pattern

In Charleston, clouds marched across the sky from west to east, marking the arrival of Florence's outer bands.

If winds hit 40 mph, emergency officials said they would dispatch ambulances only if the calls were serious. At 50 mph, they would stop altogether until the wind died down.

Charleston had been in a holding pattern for several days as forecasters and their computer models shifted course.

Some models predicted the city would get a glancing blow. In that scenario, the storm would spin into the Pee Dee and then shift north toward the Upstate. Other models predicted a more southerly shift, which would put Charleston at greater risk of rain bombs and storm surges.

Alvin Taylor, director of the state Department of Natural Resources, said the highest area of concern is the Pee Dee basin.

"It will have the greatest rainfall over the shortest period of time," he said. The Great Pee Dee "takes a lot of water from a lot of different rivers. It is the most vulnerable."

The difference between a foot of rain and a few inches is as small as the drive from Georgetown to Charleston. So even slight nudges in the storm’s path could move the risk of flooding with it.

Inland towns like Bennettsville, Dillon and Marion could be drenched with as much as 2 feet of rain, the National Weather Service warned.

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SC Midlands face first ever inland tropical storm watches as Florence nears SC Midlands face first ever inland tropical storm watches as Florence nears News

SC Midlands face first ever inland tropical storm watches as Florence nears"> SC Midlands face first ever inland tropical storm watches as Florence nears

But the risks spread from Charlotte to Charleston: A foot or more could fall around Lancaster, 8 inches is expected in Camden, and half a foot around Sumter and Manning.

The Charleston area, meantime, was straddling the line between modest rains and pounding downpours. The National Weather Service was calling Thursday for 2 to 4 inches of rain south of downtown but as much as 6 to 10 inches in places like Awendaw and McClellanville.

"At the end of the day," Taylor said, "it depends on how much rain falls in one particular area."

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As Hurricane Florence closed in on the coastline, Michelle Bannister packs her SUV after deciding Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018, to leave her first-floor apartment across South Ocean Boulevard from the beach in North Myrtle Beach. Andrew Knapp/Staff

Seeking shelter

South Carolina opened 61 shelters statewide, and they were capable of housing more than 35,000 people. But by Thursday afternoon, only 4,300 people had arrived. Michelle Ivey was one of them.

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Charleston's barrier island residents say 'meh' to Hurricane Florence evacuation order Charleston's barrier island residents say 'meh' to Hurricane Florence evacuation order Hurricane Guide

Charleston's barrier island residents say 'meh' to Hurricane Florence evacuation order"> Charleston's barrier island residents say 'meh' to Hurricane Florence evacuation order

She said she brought her six children to one at a middle school in Berkeley County. She lives in the French Quarter Creek community, where some residents had to be airlifted to safety after a sudden rise in the flood waters swamped homes there in 2015. A normal rain “floods the front yard already,” she said.

Alberta Gadsden of Cordesville said she came to the shelter as it opened. In 2016, Hurricane Matthew dumped so much rain it knocked a bridge out of commission.

“You couldn’t get out,” Gadsden said. “It took us three days to get out to Moncks Corner.”

By late Thursday, Florence's winds were continuing to pick up, flooding streets as far north as Norfolk, Va., and generating large swells as far east as Bermuda.

Meantime, in the Charleston area, which has seen three major flood events in three years, residents waited to see what Florence would do in the coming days.

Andrew Knapp and Chloe Johnson reported from Myrtle Beach and North Myrtle Beach; Joseph Cranney reported from Wilmington, N.C. Also contributing to this report were: Bo Petersen, Paul Bowers, Jeff Hartsell, Hannah Alani, David Slade, Seanna Adcox in Columbia, Greg Yee and Thad Moore.

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25 Podcasts To Get You Through The Charleston Bridge Traffic

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25 Podcasts To Get You Through The Charleston Bridge Traffic

25 Podcasts To Get You Through The Charleston Bridge Traffic

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25 Podcasts To Get You Through The Charleston Bridge Traffic