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How could Hurricane Florence impact Durham?

Courtesy of NASA Earth Observatory
Courtesy of NASA Earth Observatory

With Category 4 Hurricane Florence projected to make landfall late Thursday or Friday morning, Durham could wind up being impacted significantly. 

Wes Hohenstein, chief meteorologist at CBS 17, told The Chronicle Sunday there is a two-thirds chance that the eye of Hurricane Florence blows right through Durham. Hohenstein said the cone used in projections from the National Hurricane Center is correct two-thirds of the time—and as of now, Durham is included in the 500-mile wide projected path. 

On the ground in Durham, that would mean winds at more than 70 miles per hour, intense flooding, fallen trees and power outages for potentially days, Hohenstein said. He added the worst day will likely be Friday, in what could be a three-day storm hitting Durham Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Driving would likely be next to impossible Friday. 

As of 11 a.m. Monday, the National Hurricane Center estimated that the earliest possible time the storm could make landfall would be Wednesday night, but most likely would be Thursday morning. 

Hohenstein added Sunday night at 9 p.m. that the storm is rapidly intensifying, but expected to weaken and drastically slow down when its eye is projected to make landfall at some point the second half of the day on Thursday. This would leave North Carolina more vulnerable to flooding, he said. 

Using current projections, Hohenstein explained that Florence would be a Category 2 hurricane by the time it reaches Durham. As of noon on Monday, Florence is a Category 4 Hurricane, with maximum sustained winds near 130 mph. 

“A lot of times, we prepare for these bad storms and things are okay and nothing happens. But every once in a while, it is the worst possible scenario and we have to be ready for it,” he said. “Once things start going downhill, there’s no turning back. We want to make sure everyone is taking it seriously and is ready for it.”

In the one-third chance that the projection is not correct, the impact could be very minimal in Durham. 

“It could be anywhere from sunny and no wind to just 20 mile-per-hour winds and 2 inches of rain,” Hohenstein said.

Gov. Roy Cooper declared a State of Emergency Friday. At a press briefing Monday, Cooper said that North Carolina is "in the bullseye" of Florence. 

By its policies, Duke and its health care system must maintain "essential services and operations" during severe weather conditions. These services would include hospital operations, student resident life, research and support services. 

Although the hospital and the University must remain open in severe weather, classes and clinic appointments may be cancelled. Duke cancelled classes under its severe weather policy for a large snowstorm in January. 

Kyle Cavanaugh, vice president of administration, told The Chronicle in an email that any decision regarding classes would be up to Provost Sally Kornbluth, in consultation with Duke's Emergency Management System. If the severe weather policy were to go into effect, a DukeALERT would be issued. 

Cavanaugh wrote that the Emergency Management System has been monitoring the storm closely, while in regular contact with the National Weather Service. He also added that since hurricanes tend to impact the coast primarily, the University has been in close contact with Duke's Marine Lab, whose leadership is also planning for potential impact. 

Editor's note: This article has been updated to include new information Monday. 

Ben Leonard

Managing Editor 2018-19, 2019-2020 Features & Investigations Editor 

A member of the class of 2020 hailing from San Mateo, Calif., Ben is The Chronicle's Towerview Editor and Investigations Editor. Outside of the Chronicle, he is a public policy major working towards a journalism certificate, has interned at the Tampa Bay Times and NBC News and frequents Pitchforks. 


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