The good news about Hurricane Florence Thursday morning was that the powerful storm had weakened to a Category 2 hurricane.
The bad news was that the National Hurricane Center reported Florence was “still forecast to be an extremely dangerous, life-threatening hurricane.”
And the ugly news, for Midlands residents, was that the storm is predicted to move inland across the Columbia metro area, which has led to the National Weather Service office in Columbia issuing a tropical storm watch for the first time.
The tropical storm watch “is in effect for Chesterfield, Lee, Sumter and Clarendon counties,” predicting “sustained winds of 35 to 45 mph, with gusts up to 60 mph, are possible in the next 48 hours,” according to NWS Columbia, which said more Midlands counties could be added to the warning area.
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Although Hurricane Florence has weakened, it still has winds in the 110 mph range, the NHC reported.
The Columbia area specifically can expect to feel the effects of the hurricane Friday night, NWS forecaster Jeff Linton said, but will begin to bear the brunt Sunday mid-day. Specifically in Columbia, winds are forecast to hover between 25 and 35 mph, with gusts hitting 45 mph, Linton said.
The biggest threat to the Columbia area is flooding, the forecaster added. Columbia should expect four to six inches of rain and a possibility of flash flooding.
The official projected path shifted overnight and now suggests a landfall in southeastern North Carolina is more likely, followed then by a track through South Carolina.
“On the forecast track, the center of Florence will approach the coasts of North and South Carolina later Thursday,” the National Hurricane Center said, “then move near or over the coast of southern North Carolina and eastern South Carolina in the hurricane warning area Thursday night and Friday. A slow motion over eastern South Carolina is forecast Friday night through Saturday night.”
The NWS Columbia office tweeted: “8 AM: The central location of #Florence is 170 miles from Wilmington, NC. Maximum sustained winds of 110 mph and higher gusts. Little change in strength is expected before the center reaches the coast.”
Linton warned that water traveling from North Carolina and northern regions of the state will make its way into the Columbia area. The increase in water volume should be expected Monday or Tuesday.
In addition to the threat of flooding, residents should keep an eye out for tornadoes, which commonly spin off of hurricanes, Linton said.
Tropical storm force winds are expected to arrive in the eastern Midlands Friday morning, strong winds are expected to effect the central Midlands Friday night and the western Midlands Saturday morning, NWS Columbia reported, saying strong winds could continue into Sunday.
NWS Columbia reported there’s a 60 percent chance for tropical storm force winds in the central Midlands. That wind can snap or uproot trees, making it a potential danger.
But the greatest threat the storm poses to the Midlands is through rainfall, per NWS Columbia. Parts of the Midlands could get 6-10 inches of rain, which could last through the weekend, according to NWS Columbia.
NWS Columbia reported that there is the possibility for more changes in the track and intensity in the coming days.
“The worst conditions across central South Carolina ... are expected Friday night into at least Sunday, although impacts could linger longer depending on the uncertain evolution and track of Florence beyond this weekend,” the National Weather Service said.