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Carolinas brace for 'storm of a lifetime' as Florence looms

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The Weather Network DEVELOPING: Nightmare forecast, Florence may be 'the storm of a lifetime' DEVELOPING: Nightmare forecast, Florence may be 'the storm of a lifetime' a star in the background © Provided by The Weather Network

Hurricane Florence has the potential to be 'the storm of a lifetime' for parts of the Carolina coast, warns The National Weather Service, even with memories of previous land-falling hurricanes such as Hugo, Fran and Hazel all in mind.

While the final track and outcome of Florence is still causing headaches for forecasters -- more on that below -- what seems certain at this point is that the U.S. Southeast faces an extremely dangerous and prolonged hit from this storm by late week. Florence is expected to remain a high-end Category 4 storm, possibly reaching Category 5, before it weakens and approaches the coast. That said, models continue to favour the massive system slowing down and stalling just at the point of landfall, raising serious concernsfor catastrophic inland flooding, rounds of storm surge and relentless winds that will rake the coastline.

We take a look at the devastating impact looming with Hurricane Florence, and what's ahead for the other named storms in the Atlantic, below.

TRACKING FLORENCE:Stay with The Weather Network online and on T.V. for our exclusive coverage of the storm. Stormhunters Jaclyn Whittal and Mark Robinson will be LIVE in the Carolinas with the latest.

TROPICAL HIGHLIGHTS

  • Category 4 Hurricane Florencecontinues to strengthen; may reach Category 5 intensity briefly Wednesday
  • Despite some weakening expected ahead of landfall; cannot overstate the danger posed by this storm
  • 3 states have declared states of emergency as preparations ahead of Florence begin
  • 1 million + under mandatory evacuationorders in North, South Carolina
  • Tropical Storm Isaac will also pose threat to Caribbean late week

WATCH BELOW: WATCHING FLORENCE FROM THE ISS

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FLORENCE: KEY REASONS IT'S A LIFE-THREATENING STORM

Florence won't be the first hurricane to slam into the Carolinas with devastating effect, but there are very real reasons to be concerned that this storm will pen its name in the record books along side the likes of Hurricane Hugo and Hurricane Floyd

"This will likely be the storm of a lifetime for portions of the Carolina coast, and that's saying a lot given the impacts we've seen from Hurricanes Diana, Hugo, Fran, Bonnie, Floyd, and Matthew," reads a statement from The National Weather Service in Wilmington, North Carolina. "I can't emphasize enough the potential for unbelievable damage from wind, storm surge, and inland flooding with this storm."

States of emergency have been declared in North and South Carolina, as well as Virginia, as officials mobilize resources to prepare for what could be a devastating impact. More than one million people in North and South Carolina are under mandatory evacuation orders, and officials have begun lane reversals on major highways in the region to accommodate fleeing residents.

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FORECAST

Hurricane Florence will approach North Carolina early Friday and come perilously close to the coastline as it slows down and stalls/drifts south through the weekend.

Large waves and dangerous rip currents will begin affecting the coastline Wednesday. The outer bands spiraling around Florence will begin to affect the mid-Atlantic and Carolinas on Thursday, continuing throughout its life, supplying the additional threat for tornadoes and waterspouts as they pivot onshore.

Tropical storm-force winds (sustained winds from 63-118 km/h) will begin Thursday morning and spread inland. Hurricane conditions are expected to arrive by Friday, with winds speeds over 119 km/h, potentially exceeding 200 km/h.

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Cape Fear to Cape Lookout, including the Neuse, Pamlico, Pungo, and Bay Rivers are forecast to experience 9-13 feet of storm surge Friday. North Myrtle Beach to Cape Fear and Cape Lookout to Ocracoke Inlet with 6-9 feet of storm surge.

Florence, beyond Friday, will rake the coastline with pounding surf, constant wind and torrential rain. 

HERE'S WHY WE'RE WORRIED ABOUT FLORENCE

The Intensity

Florence has undergone several changes in strength throughout its lifetime, but from this point on, it's very likely the storm will maintain its strength, or even intensify further, meaning we're looking at a high-end Category 4 or even a Category 5 strengthstorm as it hastens toward the coast. That means a storm packing winds in excess of 200 km/h -- possibly 250 km/h -- with higher gusts. That puts Florence in the running to join a select club; only 1989's Hugo, 1959's Gracie, and 1954's Hazel have made landfall in the Carolinas as Category 4 storms. There is noCategory 5 hurricane landfall on record for the area.

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Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, after Hurricane Hugo. Image courtesy WMBF News.

Landfall will be bad -- but the impacts will reach much further

While confidence is increasing in the storm's track, and the forecast 'cone of uncertainty' is progressively narrowing, it's important to remember that a storm like Florence is huge.

As a powerful Category 4 storm on Wednesday, Florence has significantly grown in shear size. From edge to edge, the storm spans an area over 1,000 kilometres wide, with hurricane-force winds extending 110 kilometres to either side of the centre of the storm and tropical storm-force winds extending more than 280 km to either side. In other words, Florence is larger than the Carolina coast.

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(COMING SOON: 2018 FALL FORECAST AND A SNEAK PEEK AT WINTER. DON'T MISS THIS ALL DAY EVENT ON MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 17)

The potential for devastating inland flooding is high

When even conservative estimates for rainfall with a storm run at more than 300 mm, you know you're in for a rough time. In some cases, model guidance estimates of rainfall associated with Florence run higher than that -- much higher. Contrary to what you might expect, it's not the winds that are the deadliest with hurricanes, it's the flooding. And the inland and river flooding with Florence could reach truly historic levels as the storm stays the course over the weekend. 

Official amounts are forecast to vary from 20-30 inches for coastal North Carolina, with localized amounts exceeding 40 inches. That's over a meter -- or close to 3.5 feet -- of rain.

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WAITING IN THE WINGS: ISAAC - HIGH ALERT FOR CARIBBEAN

With most of the immediate attention going to Florence and its difficult forecast, we can't lose sight of Hurricane Helene, and Tropical Storm Isaac; Isaac in particular will be one to watch this week and beyond as it threatens the Caribbean.

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While Hurricane Helene seems very likely to remain well out in the Atlantic, Tropical Storm Isaac is forecast to charge through the Lesser Antilles at or near hurricane strength on Thursday, before tracking toward Central America. Forecasters are also watching for the potential development of another system near Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula. This area of interest, which may actually spin up out of the remnants of Isaac, has a 70 per cent chance of developing into a tropical cyclone by the weekend, according to the National Hurricane Center. This storm -- should it form --  may pose a threat to parts of Cuba, as well as the U.S. Gulf Coast sometime next week.

Stay with us here at The Weather Network as we track the peak of the Atlantic hurricane season.

MUST SEE: LOOKING FLORENCE 'IN THE EYE' AS IT APPROACHES THE COAST

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