Hurricane Florence was downgraded to a Category 2 storm earlier this morning but forecasters have warned the change “means nothing” as the storm continued churning away toward North Carolina.
Latest models suggest Florence will make a direct hit on Wilmington, North Carolina, before taking a harsh left-turn towards South Carolina, threatening the entire coastline with “life-threatening” water surges larger than the ones witnessed during Hurricane Katrina.
CNN Tonight meteorologist Tom Sater said: “This is the latest track. The National Hurricane Centre wants to bring it in a little earlier at 8 in the morning as a category 2. Remember, this could still get to 3.
“Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans as a category 3, we’re just about there. When it came out of the full it was a category 5. The water underneath Katrina created, even though it made landfall at 3, a record 28-foot storm surge. Early this morning a wave height reported in the north-eastern quadrant was 83 feet.”
Mr Sater insisted that downgrading Florence will have no impact on the force with which it will hit the North Carolina coast, adding that water surges and flooding could still pose a threat to life.
He continued: “The wall of water is still underneath the storm. the surge is going to be the same. The threat of loss of life and loss of property does not change.
“Going down to a category 2 status means absolutely nothing. The rain is still going to be the same, more rain in a three-day period than Washington D.C. picks up all year, the surge is still going to be the same. We’re still going to have massive waves crashing on the shore and well inland.”
He added: “Do not pay attention to these numbers, it never was about that. It was about where the storm comes from, how strong it is, the vulnerable coastline and the mass of slowdown. That has not changed. The rainfall rates are going to be staggering, couple inches an hour for several days. We could see over 10 inches a day for a couple of days.”
North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper has warned state residents: “Disaster is at the door and is coming in.
“If you are on the coast there is still time to get out safely.”
The National Weather Service has warned the hurricane has the potential to be a “storm of a lifetime”, posing a threat to life as well as likely to cause massive damage.
If Hurricane Florence does make landfall in North Carolina, it could make a direct hit on the Brunswick nuclear plant, located just south of Wilmington, and also the Shearon Harris Nuclear Plant, which is further inland and located around 23 miles from Raleigh.
Roger Hannah, a spokesman for the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission told Reuters that both nuclear power plants have been told to shut down their nuclear reactors 12 hours before the storm is set to hit the area.
Duke Energy, a firm that owns the two power plants, said it is preparing for Florence by removing any loose object that could cause damage when the storm hits.