Hurricane Florence rapidly strengthened Monday from Category 1 to Category 4, and the state has ordered Hampton Roads residents in the areas most prone to flooding to evacuate.
The storm currently looms over the Atlantic with sights apparently set to make landfall somewhere from South Carolina to Hampton Roads. Forecasters and state officials are warning of potentially catastrophic weather, including heavy rain, severe wind, extended power outages and increased coastal flooding for an already soaked Virginia.
Gov. Ralph Northam has ordered the first round of evacuations in coastal Virginia in anticipation of Hurricane Florence’s arrival on Thursday, and localities on the Peninsula have already initiated their planning and preparation for the storm.
Florence’s winds measured 140 mph Monday and are projected to strengthen, according to the National Hurricane Center. In a Monday afternoon press conference, forecaster Jeff Orrock of the National Weather Service said the models hadn’t tightened up as much as he’d like, making it difficult to forecast Florence’s path.
Earlier in the day, Orrock had said the region needs to brace for the storm. "It's all a matter of severity," said Orrock, the lead forecaster at the National Weather Service's Wakefield office. "There pretty much are two schools of thought right now. One scenario has it coming into the Wilmington, N.C., area and moving fast. In that case, we probably get tropical storm-force winds and rain up to 8 inches."
In the other scenario, the storm makes landfall between Cape Lookout and Hatteras and stalls as it moves inland.
"We could see astronomical flooding if that happens," Orrock said. "We could see flooding in places where we've never seen flooding before."
If the storm moves toward Hatteras and into Pamlico Sound, Hampton Roads could see up to 10-foot storm surge and 10 to 15 inches of rain — or more, he said Monday afternoon.
"We'd be looking at a historic event," he said.
The mid-Atlantic coast is already seeing the effects of Florence, which is pushing storm surge ahead of its path. Dangerous surf and rip currents already are being reported along the coast from northern Florida to Long Island, N.Y.
Conditions are expected to deteriorate as the week progresses.
Flooding already is being reported during high tide in regional areas prone to high water because of pull from the new moon.
By 8 a.m. Tuesday, residents in Zone A of the Virginia Department of Emergency Management’s evacuation program are supposed to leave their homes, which are in areas considered most vulnerable to flooding. The tiered zone system was implemented a year ago and is intended to streamline evacuation.
Monday evening, following the evacuation order, the website appeared to have crashed. But should it be operational again, you can look at the zone maps and learn more about the plan at KnowYourZoneVA.org. People without internet access are urged to contact their local emergency managers or call 211.
Virginia has been under a state of emergency since Saturday, and just as local and state officials have been working out plans for the hurricane’s expected landfall later this week, so should you.
Here’s a look at preparations that are being made in Peninsula localities.
Hampton shared a video on social media of public works crews clearing debris from a tree in a water-logged ditch attached to the message: “We are in full storm preparation mode with public works professionals working around the clock to inspect and clear drainage areas.”
City spokeswoman Robin McCormick said the city has had crews out checking and cleaning ditches and drains since Friday. Top city officials met Friday, Sunday and Monday to monitor the storm and to coordinate preparations, McCormick said.
City Manager Mary Bunting said on Saturday that residents in the two lowest-lying zones should consider preparing in case they need to evacuate. During the summer, the city distributed magnets to households that showed what zone those households belong to. The city website also points out that evacuating might not mean leaving the city or region, just going to a place in a higher zone or area that does not see coastal flooding.
Newport News staff has started securing construction sites throughout the city and making preparations for the hurricane. That includes generators, ensuring there’s enough fuel for them and checking drainage systems and pumps to make sure they’re operational, said city spokeswoman Kim Lee. The city has already notified personnel they might be asked to work during the storm so that they can start preparing, both for work and for the potential impact at home.
Isle of Wight County
Isle of Wight has been updating residents about the hurricane through social media. Information on the county website advises people to check if they’re in an evacuation zone. Even if someone doesn’t live in a zone, however, they must stay informed and prepare for the storm.
“It’s also important to remember,” the website states, “that mobile homes are particularly vulnerable to storms with high winds, including hurricanes. Residents of mobile homes in the path of serious storms will likely be advised to evacuate even if they are not located in one of the new storm evacuation zones.”
All Poquoson residents live in evacuation zone A or B, said Graham Wilson, the city’s assistant city manager. The work of informing residents of their zone and the evacuation program has been going on for months – notably, the city’s Community Emergency Response Team put stickers with zone information on all city trash cans.
The city is no stranger to flooding, and preparations for the hurricane began last week and started again in earnest Monday, Wilson said. Public works staff has been checking pump stations and generators to make sure everything was ready for when the storm arrived.
Officials in Gloucester have met to discuss plans ahead of Florence’s landfall. Brett Major, the county’s emergency management coordinator, said staff is monitoring the forecast and some departments have started taking precautionary measures — parts of the county were already dealing with flooding from this weekend’s heavy rains. He anticipated activity would increase as officials and forecasters got a clearer picture of the storm’s impact.
Mathews County emergency services staff met Monday afternoon to go over plans for the storm. Caroline Oxley, the county’s communications manager, said staff also had been checking things like the county’s notification system to make sure it was working properly. People in the county started calling in Monday to make sure they were part of that notification system, Oxley said.
In York County, county staff began meeting about the hurricane last week, according to York County Fire and Life Safety Chief and Emergency Management Director Stephen Kopczynski. Fire and life safety workers are checking backup systems, including generators and communications systems to make sure no matter how bad the storm is, they’ll be ready, Kopczynski said.
Kopczynski said the county would establish shelters if the need arose and advise residents where they would be and who should seek them out. He also pointed out that this storm would be different than others in memory because of the combined risks of coastal surge flooding and inland, non-tidal flooding.
James City officials anticipate opening shelters in response to the storm. More information on shelter openings can be found on JCC Alert, social media and local news media as it becomes available, according to a county release.
Williamsburg city spokeswoman Lee Ann Hartmann said the city didn’t anticipate having to evacuate any residents. “There is no plan at this time to open a shelter or to evacuate. Should the decision be made to do so, we will make that announcement,” she said in an email.
City streets can be susceptible to flooding during heavy rainfall, and residents should move their recycling and trash cans away from the curb after pickup, Hartmann wrote. The public works department is checking drainage ditches and readying equipment to deal with fallen trees or limbs.