Hurricane Florence has weakened to a tropical storm but will likely strengthen again into a major hurricane and could threaten the US East Coast by next week.
On Wednesday, Florence became the first major hurricane of the 2018 Atlantic season, with maximum sustained winds peaking at 130 mph, making it a Category 4 hurricane, according to the National Hurricane Center.
But increased wind shear over the open Atlantic — the storm is more than 1,600 miles from the East Coast — has weakened Florence to a tropical storm, with 65 mph winds as of 5 p.m. Friday.
Wind shear will lessen over the weekend, and Florence should regain major hurricane intensity (Category 3 or greater) by early next week — as the storm moves northwest, getting closer to the US coastline by the day.
It’s too early to tell if the storm will make landfall somewhere on the East Coast, or if it will turn harmlessly back to sea.
Still, there are some troubling signs in the major computer models that meteorologists use to predict hurricane tracks a week or more in advance.
The European and American models have shifted westward, consistently showing a menacing hurricane coming dangerously close to the Eastern Seaboard.
There are dozens of different models and versions of forecast tracks that meteorologists have among their forecasting tools, and a majority still show the center of Florence staying offshore — but most track it close enough to cause some impact next week.
Florence should track south of Bermuda early next week but will be close enough to bring gusty winds and dangerous surf conditions. Large swells will also begin affecting the US Southeast coast, with larger waves and rough surf as early as this weekend, increasing through next week.
Florence’s track will depend on the development and movement of a number of weather systems as the storm gets steered by a large ridge of high pressure in the Eastern United States and northern Atlantic as well as the progress of a low pressure trough across the country.
But East Coast residents can feel reassured about one thing: More than 75 storms have passed within 200 miles of Florence’s current location in the Atlantic since hurricane records began in the 1850s, and not a single one made a US landfall. But as a precaution, North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper on Friday issued a state of emergency so that farmers could harvest and move crops more quickly, waiving certain transportation restrictions.
The National Hurricane Center is monitoring a couple of other tropical depressions, dubbed 8 and 9, in the eastern Atlantic. Both are expected to become tropical storms in the next 24 hours and will be named Helene and Isaac.
Tropical Depression 8 will bring heavy rain to the Cabo Verde islands over the weekend and a tropical storm warning is in effect for a portion of the islands. Otherwise, neither storm will impact land over the next five days.