It may literally be the calm before the storm, but that doesn’t mean we are without risk at area beaches ahead of a potential arrival of Hurricane Florence.
There are several days before Hurricane Florence could hit the East Coast, but underlying dangers in the Atlantic Ocean off the East Coast already exist.
“Don’t be deceived by the weather. It’s beautiful out, but it doesn’t necessarily reflect conditions in the surf because of the swells,” said Steven Pfaff with the National Weather Service in Wilmington, North Carolina.
“A lot of times when we have some of our biggest rip current outbreaks with fatalities along the Southeast coast is a situation where you get a storm hundreds of miles offshore but the weather is beautiful off the coast. That’s one potential pitfall.”
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Rip currents are posing a risk already and likely will become more of a threat in the coming days as the storm approaches, Pfaff said.
“There’s a high risk out for all the area beaches and we anticipate that as the swell just gets worse over the next few days the rough surf will become very rough with large breakers and a lot more and stronger rip currents as a result,” he said.
Florence returned to hurricane strength on Sunday as a Category 1 but is expected to become a major hurricane Monday, Pfaff said.
“There’s a little bit of uncertainty with the forecast. It’s still five days away, but with certainty it looks like the hurricane is going to strengthen into a major hurricane by Monday evening, I would think,” he said. “Unfortunately, the Carolinas could be dealing with a Category 3 or 4 hurricane near the coast by Thursday.”
The most recent models have Wilmington at the center of the cone, but the ultimate track of the storm could still change.
“The question mark is who is going to get the main impact,” Pfaff said. “It could be anywhere from Georgia to the Outer Banks [of North Carolina] based on the variation in the models that we’re seeing.”
Red “no swimming” signs were flying along North Carolina’s coast, but as of Sunday afternoon there was no indication that swimming off the Grand Strand was off limits for beachgoers.
“Pay attention to any flags that are flying. The flags can represent a multitude of different things from jellyfish to rip currents,” Pfaff said. “Just pay attention to what, if any, threats there are.”
Pfaff said that while it’s unclear to what degree the Grand Strand will be affected, it is important to start making preparations. He advises you to make sure you have enough food and water, think about how to care for your pets, fill your medications and have a plan in case an evacuation order is enacted.
“Whether we’re on the fringes of it or directly impacted, it remains to be seen. But in the least if they’re not paying attention already, then they need to really ramp up their situational awareness,” Pfaff said. “We’re not at the point where you need to board up the house or anything like that, but just those preliminary actions we need to be considering or doing now.”
David Wetzel: @MYBSports, 843-626-0295