Over a million people are evacuating from coastal areas and emergency preparations are underway as Hurricane Florence rapidly intensifies off the Carolinas, bringing sustained high-speed winds, heavy rain, and storm surge. Here are five things you need to know about the life-threatening Category 4 storm:
It could get worse before it makes landfall
Hurricane Florence is expected to make landfall Thursday or Friday in North Carolina and is currently sustaining 130 mph winds, making it a Category 4 storm. But it might get even worse. Forecasters warn it could get even more intense and reach a Category 5 storm with 150 mph winds as it approaches the Carolinas. In fact, the hurricane is growing to about the size of North Carolina, according to meteorologist Eric Holthaus.
“Florence has rapidly intensified into an extremely dangerous hurricane,” the National Hurricane Center warned Monday. North Carolina has only ever experienced three Category 3 hurricanes on record, according to Brian McNoldy, a University of Miami atmospheric scientist. This could be the first time on record that any storm of this strength has made landfall.
Evacuations are already underway
More than 1.5 million people have already been ordered to evacuate ahead of the storm, including a million people living on the entire 170-mile South Carolina coast, according to the Post and Courier.
“We are not going to gamble with the lives of the people of South Carolina,” said Gov. Henry McMaster.
“All interests from South Carolina into the Mid-Atlantic region should ensure they have their hurricane plan in place and follow any advice given by local officials,” the hurricane center announced.
It could release toxic sludge and pig manure
Hurricane Florence will undoubtedly result in flooding across the coast, and in North Carolina, that could unleash toxic waste left from power plants and massive amounts of animal manure.
According to Bloomberg News, a company was ordered to clean up toxic waste two years ago in North Carolina, but they won’t be done before Florence hits, leaving sites open to spills. Since the state is also a major producer of hogs, turkeys, and chickens, the manmade lagoons that hold all the animal feces could overflow.
Why it's really dangerous: the rain
"Freshwater flooding poses the greatest risk to life," James Kossin, an atmospheric scientist for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the University of Wisconsin, Madison, told NPR on Tuesday.
The deadliest aspect of any hurricane tends to be the flooding that comes from storm surge and rain. The hurricane center warned that the Carolinas and Virginia will experience an “extremely dangerous” triple threat of storm surges, freshwater flooding, and hurricane-force winds.
Forecast models show that flooding could be worse than what the Carolinas experienced during Hurricane Matthew in 2016, with at least one to two feet of rainfall. According to the Washington Post, since much of the soil in the region is already saturated from recent rains, flooding will begin as soon as the storm rain starts to come down.
Moreover, Florence is expected to be reminiscent of Hurricane Harvey, with a prolonged and heavy rainfall. That rainfall is exactly what made Harvey so devastating for Houston in 2017.
It isn’t the only hurricane to worry about
While not as aggressive or close to land, Hurricane Florence is joined by Category 2 Hurricane Helene and Category 1 Hurricane Isaac.
Cover: This photo provided by NASA shows Hurricane Florence from the International Space Station on Monday, Sept. 10, 2018, as it threatens the U.S. East Coast. (NASA via AP)