8:00 p.m. Tuesday update: Parts of Beaufort County remained in Hurricane Florence’s “cone of uncertainty” as of the National Hurricane Center’s 8 p.m. update. There is still a level of uncertainty as to where the hurricane would make landfall in the coming days, and what it would do once it does hit the coast, Lowcountry meteorologist say.
There was very little change between the National Weather Service’s 5 p.m. and 8 p.m. update, Steven Rowley, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Charleston, said Tuesday evening.
If Florence stays on its current path with projected landfall in North Carolina, the prospect of tropical storm-force wind and storm surge for the Beaufort County area is slim, said Ron Morales, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Charleston.
But nothing is clear at this point, the forecast cone still leaves the possibility of the storm making landfall in southeastern South Carolina and some models have the storm wobbling south down the coast after making landfall, Morales cautioned.
He said he hopes for more clarity in the next 24 hours but that some storms keep scientists guessing until landfall.
“What I think is the most concerning at this point is the models keep trending toward something happening when it hits the coastline — stalling, slowing down, wobbling inland, possibly wobbling back down our coastline and making another landfall,” Morales said. “There’s all those wacky things that are going on that just make this a nightmare to try to figure out.”
Parts of northern Beaufort County remained in Hurricane Florence’s “cone of uncertainty” as of the National Hurricane Center’s 8 p.m. update, though a mandatory evacuation for the county had been lifted earlier Tuesday. The projected path still showed the storm headed toward a North Carolina landfall.
The hurricane was moving north-northwest at 17 mph, with maximum sustained winds of 140 mph, according to the Hurricane Center update said at 8 p.m Tuesday.
Beaufort County also is not included in storm watches issued by the center.
A hurricane warning is in effect from the south Santee River in South Carolina to Duck, North Carolina. A hurricane watch is in place from Edisto Beach to the Santee River.
Christina Speciale, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service, said the shape of the cone accounts for the storm’s potential track shifts.
“It’s still very, very far away,” Speciale said. “We are trying to use our best judgment as to where it could make landfall.”
Speciale said the western and southern portions of the end of the cone indicate there is a greater mathematical potential for the storm’s track to shift in that direction.
“Don’t rule out these areas for direct impacts,” she said. “Signs ... suggest a westward or southern shift is still on the table.”
The latest track from the hurricane center shows the storm making landfall on Friday just north of Wilmington, North Carolina, and then slowing down and making a slight change in direction to the west.
“Don’t focus on that black, bold center line,” Speciale said. “If you are in the white hatched area, .... stay on guard.”
Neil Dixon, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Charleston, said storm watches will change as Hurricane Florence is tracked.
He said there’s no way to predict whether Beaufort County will be added to the list of watches later.
“It could be adjusted,” Dixon said. “It’s a possibility as we monitor the storm in coordination with the National Hurricane Center.”
How will Florence impact Beaufort County?
He said if the storm maintains its projected track, Beaufort County should expect 3/4 to 2 inches of rain, with the possibility of higher amounts in some areas.
Those rain amounts could increase if the storm track shifts farther south, he said.
Speciale said Beaufort County could begin seeing tropical storm-force winds — between 39 and 73 mph — late Wednesday night and early Thursday morning.
Dixon said Beaufort County is under a high rip-current risk from 8 a.m. through at least Tuesday evening.
“No one should enter the surf due to life-threatening rip currents,” according to a statement from the National Weather Service in Charleston.
Beaufort County also is at risk for coastal flooding, especially during the evening high tide, Dixon said.
Traffic was light In Beaufort County on Tuesday morning, during hours in which highways would typically be filled with morning commuters heading to work and school.
There were no backups on U.S. 278 over the Hilton Head bridges through Bluffton, according to the Beaufort County traffic camera system.
However, congestion was heavy and at least one accident was reported on I-95 Tuesday morning, according to the South Carolina Department of Transportation’s 511 system.
Schools were closed in Beaufort and Jasper counties after McMaster’s evacuation order, and government meetings were canceled.
This story will be updated.