The chances of a direct hit from a hurricane along the Carolinas next week has increased, according to a release from the National Weather Service in Wilmington, North Carolina.
Florence remains a tropical storm but is forecast to become a hurricane Saturday night or Sunday morning as it continues on a westerly track toward the East Coast of the United States, the NWS reports. As of 5:30 p.m. Saturday, the storm was 810 miles southeast of Bermuda while heading west at 5 mph with maximum winds of 70 mph.
The storm is projected to take a west-northwest track Wednesday into Thursday, possibly as a major hurricane, the NWS says.
The latest projected path shows a cone that spans from the northern part of Florida to about the middle of North Carolina’s coast. The NWS reports that it’s too early to determine if Florence will directly impact the Carolinas, but it encourages residents to begin taking precautions.
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Both Horry and Georgetown counties have moved to a Level 4 Operation Condition (OPCON4) in preparation for potential impacts from Florence. OPCON4 means that the counties are on “alert” status and “county officials have begun discussions with South Carolina Emergency Management, coastal communities including local municipalities, and will continue to monitor the situation closely,” according to a release from Horry County Director of Public Information Kelly Moore.
OPCON4 status represents officials’ acknowledgment that the storm poses a “possible threat,” the release says. An upgrade to OPCON3 would mean the storm poses a significant threat and emergency preparations would likely be put in place, under an OPCON2 order an evacuation order would be imminent and an OPCON1 act would mean an evacuation order is in effect, according to the release.
S.C. Gov. Henry McMaster declared a state of emergency on Saturday afternoon, an executive order that allows all state agencies to coordinate resources in preparation for the storm.
“This storm is too powerful and its path is too uncertain to take any chances,” McMaster said in a press release. “We are mobilizing the state’s resources to make sure we are prepared, and the people of South Carolina must not hesitate to prepare for the possibility of a hurricane impacting our coast.”
South Carolina Emergency Management Division (SCEMD) Director Kim Stenson urged residents to be vigilant amid the threat.
“If you experienced Hurricane Irma last year, Hurricane Matthew in 2016, or even the Flood in 2015: think about all the supplies you didn’t have or safety measures you didn’t have time to implement,” Stenson said in the press release. “Now is the time to make sure you have everything you may need: check your emergency supplies, prepare your home and your property and have a plan for where you will go if the worst-case scenario becomes reality.”
With the expectation of many people heading to gas stations and grocery stores, S.C. Attorney General Alan Wilson announced that the state’s law against price gouging is now in effect.
“With the possibility that Tropical Storm Florence could make landfall in South Carolina, likely as a hurricane, our people have already started making preparations,” he said in a release. “We can expect normal price increases, but we may see businesses and individuals looking to unfairly take advantage of the situation through price gouging of food, gasoline, lodging, and other commodities as defined by the statute. By our law, that’s a criminal violation and an unfair trade practice.”
The price-gouging law will remain in effect until the state of emergency expires or is terminated. Those who violate the law will be subject to misdemeanor that includes a $1,000 fine and/or 30 days in jail.
Regardless of the ultimate path of Florence, large swells will affect beaches this upcoming week, creating “rough surf, life-threatening rip currents and steep waves at inlet entrances,” the NWS reports. The current forecast calls for up to 7-10 inches of rainfall in parts of the Carolinas, but those projections will be highly dependent on Florence’s ultimate track.
The NWS advises people to review their hurricane plans and monitor the storm closely.
David Wetzel: @MYBSports, 843-626-0295