KSAT Weather: Get Ready For Some Gray, Clouds Are Here To Stay

• The authorities made last-ditch efforts to get everyone out of harm’s way. In South Carolina, Gov. Henry McMaster said about 421,000 state residents had evacuated. But some hurricane holdouts who have never fled a storm were determined to stay. Read why they’re staying put.

• President Trump on Thursday falsely accused Democrats of inflating the death toll from Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico last year, rejecting a government assessment that the storm had claimed nearly 3,000 lives. Read more about the president’s comments.

• Mr. Trump also signaled on Twitter that he was tracking Florence’s progress, writing: “We are completely ready for hurricane Florence, as the storm gets even larger and more powerful. Be careful!” Here’s a look at how Florence is a formidable test for the president and FEMA.

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Graphic

Mapping Florence’s Impact: Rainfall, Power Outages, and Wind

Animated maps and satellite images show the effects of the storm.

OPEN Graphic

Are you in the path of Hurricane Florence? We want to hear from you.

• The Times is providing open and unlimited access to coverage of the storm. Our reporting is collected here.

FEMA prepares, but urges patience

Brock Long, the director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, said Thursday that the federal government had staged resources and personnel in states along the Eastern Seaboard to help quickly after the storm.

FEMA personnel were focused at the moment on helping state and local authorities prepare, he said. But as the storm pushes through, the agency will shift its focus to identifying infrastructure damage and work to restore services.

“The infrastructure is going to break. The power is going to go out,” Mr. Long said at a news conference. “We need people to get their mind-sets right that disasters are very frustrating and that it takes time to get the infrastructure back and running. We will move as quickly as we can to get back up.”

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Though Florence has weakened to a Category 2 storm, Mr. Long said that storm surge and heavy rain still posed a significant danger. Residents still in their homes are running out of time to evacuate, he said.

“The ocean will start rising along the coast and back bay areas,” Mr. Long said. “Your time to get out of the areas, out of the storm surge areas, is coming to a close.”

Watch the storm live

A repurposed Coast Guard tower 34 miles off the coast southeast of Wilmington, N.C., is providing a unique, on-the-sea look at Florence. (Click on image to play.)

Frying Pan Ocean Cam powered by EXPLORE.org Video by Explore Oceans

Another webcam further north on the North Carolina coast, is capturing the scene near the town of Pine Knoll shores. Still further north, along North Carolina’s Outer Banks, webcams are showing the conditions at Cape Hatteras and Kitty Hawk.

In South Carolina, webcams are capturing the coastline at Myrtle Beach and Kiawah Island.

There are other ways to follow the storm and its effects. Google has published a crisis map that showed traffic problems, evacuation zones and other alerts along with the cloud cover and the storm’s location.

CrowdSource Rescue, an organization that helped civilians rescue each other during Hurricane Harvey using mapping and other technology, also planned to publish rescue information on a map.

Wind gusts are only the beginning

Our reporter Jack Healy is on the Outer Banks, where winds from Hurricane Florence gained force on Thursday, gusting to 51 miles an hour and giving these emptied-out islands a preview of the storm’s power.

Honestly the last thing I thought I’d see — work crews out here when everyone else is gone, trying to push back against the winds and surge. pic.twitter.com/1AzFIWx7z6

— jack healy (@jackhealyNYT) Sept. 13, 2018

The gusts were a precursor to what would be coming; Hurricane Florence is expected to pummel the coast with winds above 100 m.p.h.

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“It’s just starting to make its approach,” Drew Pearson, director of Emergency Management for Dare County n the Outer Banks, said. “You’re just starting to see the leading edge of the storm.” Read more about what it's like to be on the Outer Banks today.

Waiting for flooding is ‘like being stalked by a turtle’

Hurricane Florence’s unusually slow approach is proving a particular challenge for many of the small towns on North Carolina’s coastal plain.

“It’s almost like, ‘When it is going to start raining?’” said Paula Cognitore, a hydrologist at the National Weather Center, who has been tracking the forecast for region’s rivers, many of which are at risk of major flooding in the next few days.

[Landfall, storm surge and the Waffle House Index: Hurricane terms and what they mean.]

When the deluge begins, it is expected to last longer than previous hurricanes. Forecasters say the storm will stall after moving inland, prolonging the rain.

Even then, there will be more waiting to endure. Tarboro, N.C., which is surrounded on three sides by the Tar River, may not feel the full brunt of the storm until the middle of next week, the town manager, Troy Lewis, said.

That is when the cumulative effect of what could be 20 inches of rain may raise the water-level in Tarboro beyond the river’s banks, as it did during Hurricanes Floyd and Matthew.

“It’s like being stalked by a turtle,” Mr. Lewis said. “We see it coming but there’s nothing we can do.”

Photo
Rough surf in Myrtle Beach, S.C., on Thursday morning, ahead of the arrival of Hurricane Florence. Credit Luke Sharrett for The New York Times

Trying to learn from recent history, police officials in Kinston, N.C., which sits on the Neuse River, posted warning signs and knocked on the doors of houses that had flooded in earlier storms. Residents were asked to evacuate to a shelter.

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Adam Short, the planning director for Kinston, keeps the Weather Center’s river-flooding forecast open on his browser. For now, it is showing a red dot at Kinston, the code for moderate flooding.

That status is better than the purple dot in Lumberton, a hundred miles southwest, which signifies that the flooding will be major, and, according to Ms. Cognitore, possibly record-breaking. But the forecast, Mr. Short said “could easily change.”

Ms. Cognitore concurred. “As we go on in time, you’re going to see more of the colors on this map start to turn red and purple,” she said.

Trying to roust the hurricane holdouts

Video

‘We’ll Stay’: The Residents Bracing for Hurricane Florence

Carolina Beach, N.C., is a small oceanfront town that could be right in the hurricane’s path. Many residents left under a mandatory evacuation order. We met the few who stayed behind.

By NILO TABRIZY, BEN LAFFIN and ORLANDO DE GUZMAN on Publish Date September 12, 2018. . Watch in Times Video »
  • > embed

Federal, state and local officials have already spent days trying to warn people in Florence’s path of the potential severity of the storm.

“We cannot underestimate this storm,” Governor Cooper of North Carolina said. “Wind speeds may have dropped some from yesterday, but we traded that for a larger wind field that expands 200 miles with tropical-storm-force winds.”

He pleaded with people to move to a safe place and listen to their local authorities if they are asked to move again to safer ground.

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[Here’s how to prepare to evacuate your home ahead of Hurricane Florence.]

North Carolina had opened 126 shelters for about 12,000 people, and is trying to open more.

South Carolina officials said Thursday that about 4,358 people had moved into shelters, with space for 31,000 space still available..

The mini golf courses and neon beachwear shops were closed in Myrtle Beach and the empty streets had a beach-town-in-winter feeling. But down on the sand itself, facing a low, gray sky, people surfed, swam, sat shirtless in low-slung beach chairs and tossed around balls like it was a hot Tuesday afternoon in July.

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“We’re staying,” said Rosetta Gaskins, a school cafeteria cook who had called her 18-year-old son down from his college upstate to spend the weekend with her at a sort of multiday house party at Paco and Kathi Longoria’s place, a half mile in from the beach.

There were 13 of them altogether, and there would be hot dogs and pancakes, games, a 1-year-old’s birthday party and days of watching the angry weather from the porch. Everyone was pretty sanguine about things.

Everyone except for Jennifer Bellamy.

“I was in panic mode and thinking I was with a bunch of crazy people and they were thinking I was the crazy one,” she said.

Though quite a few had left, most people around town who stayed were not that nervous, the group said. (“They weren’t even nervous when it was a Category 4,” said Ms. Bellamy, eyeing the horizon skeptically.)

[Read more here about the hurricane holdouts who choose to ride out the storm at home]

Some evacuees are not taking any chances

Photo
An empty street in Carolina Beach, N.C., on Wednesday. Credit Victor J. Blue for The New York Times

After packing up her home in Columbia, S.C., Lavette Pixley arrived at the evacuation center at Ridge View High School on Thursday with her 8-year-old son, Tayon, and enough clothes and supplies for a few days.

During Hurricane Joaquin in 2015, Ms. Pixley and her son decided not to evacuate. Their ground-floor apartment flooded, and they had to be rescued by firefighters.

“We thought it was a normal night and we woke up in water,” she said.

For this storm, she was not taking any chances. “I’m scared,” she said. “We have bad memories from last time.”

By midafternoon, about 70 people had checked into the shelter. Most were from Richland County, which includes Columbia, but some had traveled from as far as Charleston, roughly 115 miles away.

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Gov. Henry McMaster of South Carolina said about 421,000 residents had evacuated their homes. The state had opened over 60 shelters by Thursday, with more than 4,000 people staying in them, according to figures from the Department of Social Services. More than 30,000 spaces were still available.

Officials have also been enacting curfews to keep residents safe and roads clear for emergency response. Overnight curfews are in place in spots like Myrtle Beach, Mullins and Surfside Beach in South Carolina, and Scotland, Robeson and Carteret Counties in North Carolina.

A Super Typhoon threatens the Philippines

As the East Coast of the United States awaits Hurricane Florence, the Philippines is staring at a super typhoon packing winds of up to 150 miles an hour. Super Typhoon Mangkhut is on track to hit the northern Philippines with its strongest winds on Friday before striking Taiwan and then possibly veering south toward Hong Kong and mainland China.

As many as 43 million people could be exposed to cyclone-strength winds, according to the Global Disaster Alert and Coordination System. The typhoon’s winds are expected to intensify Thursday and Friday — reaching speeds as high as 161 m.p.h. — before weakening Saturday, the Hong Kong Observatory said.

In 2013, the Philippines was battered by Super Typhoon Haiyan, which killed more than 6,000 people and displaced hundreds of thousands. Read more here.

Using social media for warnings, and some relief

Through webcams, many people on social media were already watching the storm’s initial winds and rains whipping the coastline.

The U.S. Army and Coast Guard said they were gearing up to respond the storm and the expected flooding from extensive rainfall and storm surge. Local transit agencies said they would help get people to the safety of shelters. Utility workers from across the country prepared for extensive damage in the storm region that could cut electric service to millions of customers.

Breweries said they would help people fill up water containers. Amusement park operators removed gondolas from a Ferris wheel. People picked up foster animals to make room for people in shelters. One bakery in a North Carolina town baked hurricane-themed bread.

@lafarmbakery to the rescue with Hurricane Bread! Hand shaping & baking around the clock to feed the Triangle area before Hurricane Florence�� #hurricaneprep #knowyourbaker #lafarmbakery #breadbaker #florence pic.twitter.com/x1B47t6aiY

— Jennifer Noble Kelly (@jennoblekelly) Sept. 13, 2018

But, as always, many people offered cautions not to believe everything that you see on social media.

Let's go ahead and get these out of the way BEFORE #Florence hits...

1 - The shark on the flooded road pic is fake.

2 - Soldiers standing guard at Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is real, but not during hurricane.

3 - The WonderWorks restaurant in Myrtle is already upside down. pic.twitter.com/wNPdt1VRVw

— Chris (@ChrisDotWeb) Sept. 11, 2018

Some answers to your hurricane questions

As Hurricane Florence approaches, many readers have asked questions about the science of forecasting hurricanes, and how climate change affects them. In her responses, climate reporter Kendra Pierre-Louis explains why forecasters cannot precisely predict the path of the storm. (It is after all, an educated guess.)

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She also reports that at least 20 computer forecasting models are available, but that only five of them are considered accurate by most meteorologists. (The American model is doing slightly better.) And discusses how climate change is affecting the intensity of the storms. (Think of warm water as the engine that fuels hurricanes.) Read more here.

Reporting was contributed by Jack Healy from Nags Head, N.C.; David Zucchino from Wilmington, N.C.; Richard Fausset from Washington, N.C.; Campbell Robertson from Myrtle Beach, S.C.; Tyler Pager from Columbia, S.C.; Sheri Fink from Boydton, Va.; Amy Harmon, Matthew Haag, John Schwartz and Mihir Zaveri from New York; and Daniel Victor from Hong Kong.

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