The nation’s eyes are on Hurricane Florence, which overcame some big odds to target the East Coast this week.
Regardless of where the storm ultimately lands in the Carolinas, the Southeastern U.S. is due for potentially unprecedented rainfall and violent surges of ocean water.
“This is shaping up to be a very dangerous scenario, as Florence nears our coast and stalls, unprecedented, and life-threatening flooding may unfold,” the National Weather Service in Wilmington, North Carolina, wrote Wednesday.
Here are five telling things to know as Hurricane Florence churns toward land:
1. The storm is growing
As of the morning of September 12, NASA found that the storm was 400 miles in diameter. That’s more than the distance between Los Angeles and the Grand Canyon.
It’s growth has been aided by the formation of a new eyewall, which tends to increase the size of a hurricane, meaning that its extreme wind field stretches even farther than weaker storms.
The National Hurricane Center measured wind speeds of over 50 mph 100 miles out from Florence’s center.
Not something that you want to see. Hurricane #Florence has increased in size over the last 24 hours. The area of tropical storm force winds have increase from 57,000 sq miles to 86,000 sq miles. The region with hurricane force winds or greater encompass roughly 9,000 sq miles. pic.twitter.com/pYqjc9dt49
— Chris Slocum (@CSlocumWX) September 12, 2018
2. The storm could break rainfall records
The National Hurricane Center is forecasting that Hurricane Florence will slow to a crawl just off the coast of the Carolinas.
Similar to Hurricane Harvey — the largest rainfall event in U.S. history — Florence could bring heavy, sustained rainfall over the Carolinas, delivering up to 40 inches in some areas, according to the National Weather Service (NWS).
This means catastrophic flooding.
As the NWS emphasizes, most hurricane deaths aren’t from extreme winds, but moving water.
Historically, rainfall records from hurricanes have brought at most 24 inches of rain to North Carolina, in 1998. Florence has the potential to topple that record.
The tropical cyclone-related rainfall records for the Southeast since 1950. 1870-1949 rain data do not reveal wetter storms for the Carolinas. As 40″ local amounts are possible from Florence, the rain forecast is beyond what has been previously seen/witnessed for the Carolinas. pic.twitter.com/BmVZQnZvhj
— NWS WPC (@NWSWPC) September 12, 2018
Generally, rains will fall over a massive swath of land. The NWS predicts more than 5 inches of rain over a 570-mile long region.
3. Making giant waves
Although Carolina coastlines will be met with storm surges, out in the open ocean Florence is producing rather terrifying waves.
Wednesday morning, the National Hurricane Center measured wave heights of up to 83 feet in the Atlantic.
4. Serious evacuations: Reverse driving on freeways
Many coastal areas in the Carolinas and Virginia are under mandatory evacuations.
To ease the heavy traffic leaving the coast, South Carolina reversed freeways lanes to allow traffic to flow away from the coming storm.
The video below shows the South Carolina Highway Patrol leading the public down reversed lanes.
SCHP troopers bring the first cars from the reversed lanes back into Columbia at the crossover on I-26 and I-77 in Columbia around 1 p.m. on September 11. I-26 Lane reversal from Charleston to Columbia is in full effect. #Florence #Tweets pic.twitter.com/ASINAYdCEi
— SCDPS (@SCDPS_PIO) September 11, 2018
5. Florence isn’t alone
It’s the peak of hurricane season in the Atlantic, a time where warm ocean temperatures and diminished wind shear typically stoke the greatest number of hurricanes.
As of September 12, the Atlantic has three named storms (tropical storms with sustained winds of at least 39 mph), as well as two other weather patterns that could soon become well-organized storm systems.
“If all 5 systems were to be named at the same time, it would be 1st time on record [the] Atlantic had 5 named storms simultaneously,” according to a tweet from hurricane scientist Phil Klotzbach.
But for now, Florence is, rightfully, getting nearly all the attention.