As powerful Hurricane Florence continued Monday on its trek north of here toward a landfall late this week in the Carolinas, local forecasters and officials remained cautiously optimistic that the Golden Isles will be spared major effects from the storm.
As of 3 p.m. Monday, Florence had been upgraded to a Category 4 hurricane with sustained winds of 130 mph., according to the National Hurricane Center. It remains far out in the Atlantic Ocean, moving west at 13 mph. Current projections show the eye of the hurricane making an expected landfall overnight Thursday near Wilmington, N.C., according to the hurricane center. Georgia was taken out of the hurricane center’s projected cone of uncertainty Monday, meaning direct impacts from Florence are unlikely here.
However, rough surf, strong rip currents and possible minor flooding are anticipated along the coast as Florence approaches the East Coast.
“It looks like we’ve been blessed,” said Jay Wiggins, director of Glynn County’s Emergency Management Agency. “I’m not uncrossing my fingers yet. We’re working closely the Georgia Emergency Management Agency to monitor this. But we’re very fortunate here if it continues on the model that is predicted now and continues north.”
A high pressure system is expected to form over the Northeast this week, which will likely keep Florence on its current course toward the Carolinas, said Jason Hess, a meteorologist with National Weather Service in Jacksonville, Fla. That said, high surf, minor flooding during high tide, stiff winds and thunderstorms are expected this week as the hurricane nears.
“Right now, the main impact for us is basically heavy surf,” Hess said. “It will be increasing later this week, and it looks like it’s building on the order of 5- to 7-foot breakers. With that there’ll be some minor flooding associated with high tides. We’re just coming off of a new moon, which will keep that elevated.”
Wiggins advises folks in the Golden Isles to continue monitoring Florence, using officials’ sites such as the National Hurricane Center (www.nhc.noaa.gov) and the National Weather Service in Jacksonville. Additionally, Wiggins urges beachgoers to avoid going into the surf this week.
“We certainly encourage people to stay out of the water because it could be very dangerous,” he said. “But once this storm goes ashore in the Carolinas, I think we will see a reduction in impact. But this is the weather — it can change. We’re in the heart of hurricane season, so we’re asking people to be prepared. Have an emergency kit, have a plan in place and be a alert.”
While Florence is likely to spare the Golden Isles, it’s also likely the area could see an influx of traffic and hotel bookings as Mid-Atlantic residents heed evacuation orders and dash away from the storm’s projected path.
“At our staff briefing this morning, based on the reports from our I-95 welcome center, we’re already seeing a lot of mobile people coming in from the Mid-Atlantic,” said Scott McQuade, president of the Golden Isles Convention and Visitors Bureau. “We anticipate as long as we’re out of the cone, we’ll see evacuees head south to get away from the storm’s impact.”
Hoteliers aren’t the only ones preparing, either. Both city and county public works departments are out this week clearing ditches and drains in anticipation of possibly heavy rainfall.
“(The crews) know the tender areas, and they know which ditches are prone to being block or flooding,” said Dave Austin, the county’s public works director. “Our concern right now is we’ve gotten a lot of rain this year, so the water table is already high. An excess of rain could lead to some temporary flooding.”
In Brunswick, Rick Charnock, assistant director of the city’s public works department, spent Monday morning lining up a rented vacuum truck to help unclog certain storm drains and hard-to-reach areas. The city’s vacuum truck is currently out of commission, so Charnock is renting one for a few days, he said.
Aside from that, Charnock’s crews have already got the jump on hurricane season, he said.
“We’ve been out and started pre-planning for this in the middle of August,” he said. “We’ve been hitting some of those areas like College and Magnolia parks, because they’re prone to flooding.”