Hurricane Florence could stall offshore in repeat of “Harvey”

Hurricane Florence poses another danger to coastal residents as it steams toward the Mid-Atlantic region — that the tempest could stall just offshore, according to weather experts charting the storm’s path.That could dump several feet of rain on resorts like Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, before turning inland rivers and streams into raging torrents. 

“This storm is going to linger awhile,” said George Gallagher of global analytics firm CoreLogic during an online event on Wednesday to assess the threat. “It has ‘Harvey’ written all over it.” 

Last year’s Hurricane Harvey, the wettest tropical cyclone on record, dumped 40 inches of rain on Houston after stalling over south Texas. The city, flooded by five feet in some areas, caused more than 80 fatalities and saw 30,000 people forced from their homes. The storm caused an estimated $125 billion of damage along the Gulf Coast.

CoreLogic estiimates that Florence could damage more than 750,000 homes and businesses along the East Coast, with potential reconstruction costs of $170 billion. That would make it the costliest storm ever to hit the U.S. in terms of property loss. 

Based on the latest information from the National Weather Service, CoreLogic uses past hurricanes, elevations above sea level and population density, among other factors, to advise emergency responders and insurers where they should focus their resources.

The firm’s prediction for Florence, which is packing 130-mile-per-hour winds, is that it will now move more slowly, reaching land sometime on Saturday as cooler water temperatures delay its progress westward.

That doesn’t make Florence any less dangerous, said CoreLogic meteorologist Curtis McDonald. Indeed, stalling just off the coast on Friday could increase the storm surge, which is now expected to be as high as 14 feet. 

“If Florence comes ashore during high tide, it could be similar to [Hurricane] Sandy and push more water inland,” he said. “The flood waters will have no easy exit. The storm surge will hold it inside.”

Storm surge is tidewater driven by high winds. Hurricane force winds now extend out 70 miles, McDonald added.

The CoreLogic storm specialists said flash flooding is the greatest danger to people in affected areas, followed by storm surge second and wind damage. Winds will likely diminish over land, but the storm’s path, which now looks set to make landfall near the North Carolina-South Carolina border, will still take it as far west and south as the Georgia border, the analytics firm predicted. Heavy rainfall is expected across the mid-Atlantic region

As of Tuesday, about 1.7 million people in North and South Carolina and in Virginia have been urged to evacuate the coast, and hurricane watches and warnings extended across an area with about 5.4 million residents.

In a worst-case scenario, Myrtle Beach could have a “potential loss” of more than $7.2 billion, assuming massive damage to the famous golf resort town.

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