There’s a wide array of questions circulating around Hurricane Florence as it creeps near the Carolinas coast.
One, though, will have the greatest impact of all: Who will be at the center when it ultimately makes landfall?
Less than two days from a projected arrival, that question unfortunately is still unanswered and might not be clear until Wednesday night, according to Reid Hawkins with the National Weather Service in Wilmington, North Carolina.
“With the uncertainty so high, I’d say within 24 hours we’ll know better,” he said during a conference call Tuesday night. “That’s just common stance, but when you have the hurricanes that circle around the high pressure and come around there’s certain ones that are real easy to forecast. This is not in that ballpark. This is a very difficult one and the uncertainty in the track is very, very high.”
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As of the 5:30 p.m. briefing, hurricane warnings for Horry and Georgetown counties had been issued, the storm returned to Category 4 status and projected rainfall totals for the area had increased. The warning means hurricane force winds are expected within 36 hours, but determining which area will get the strongest of those remains unclear.
“It’s going to be as we get closer and closer,” Hawkins said. “I don’t know the answer to that.”
Parts of Horry County are now forecast to get anywhere from 4 to 10 inches of rainfall.
“They’ve increased the rainfall totals because it’s stalling,” Hawkins said.
Previous projections had the storm inching farther north, but unexpected movement Tuesday brought the probability of a direct hit to Myrtle Beach more likely, even if ever so slightly.
“It has shifted south a little bit,” Hawkins said. “Originally they were thinking it would go a little farther northward before it came inland.”
Nonetheless, hurricane specialists don’t expect any further southward movement despite some projections that have a direct hit farther south.
“The hurricane specialists are not confident in that at all,” Hawkins said. “There’s some technical issues why they don’t think that is. So that’s why they’ve gone more [with it] coming up in to [the Wilmington] area.”
There were also some online models that showed a direct hit to North Carolina, followed by a trek southward over land, but Hawkins said specialists aren’t keen on that projection either.
“They’re kind of discounting that backward southwest shift,” he said. “We’ll have to see. The hurricane specialists, when it comes in, they’re taking it more due west than southwest.”
He also said that determining which area gets the most rainfall depends on where Florence comes inland. In the current projection, North Carolina would likely get the brunt of the rain and flooding, he said. But if it were to shift south and enter through Myrtle Beach, South Carolina would get the heaviest saturation.
“The key what you’ve got to worry about is the farther south that it comes in - and it’s over to the north of that - it would shift the heavy rain potential even farther south,” Hawkins said of Horry County.
Hawkins said the Myrtle Beach area likely will start feeling hurricane force winds by Thursday morning, but it’s possible the heavy gusts could arrive a little sooner.
“The most likely is going to be right after sunrise,” he said, referring to Thursday. “If it’s a little faster . . . that would be overnight Wednesday night. But I feel that Thursday 8 a.m. is better because as it is getting closer to our area - southeast North Carolina and northeast South Carolina - it’s gonna be hitting that ridge so it’s probably going to be slowing down.”
David Wetzel: @MYBSports, 843-626-0295