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Hurricane downgraded, but officials still advise caution

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Hurricane Florence has downgraded to a Category 2, with sustained winds of 110 mph, but the National Hurricane Center says not to underestimate the storm.

Hurricane Florence as of 11 a.m. Thursday. Click to view larger. (Map/National Hurricane Center)

Hurricane-force winds extend up to 70 miles from the center of the storm, and tropical storm-force winds extend up to 170 miles from the center. The center of the storm is expected to reach North Carolina on Friday morning.

“I urge everyone not to concentrate on that center,” NHC director Ken Graham said in a video update this morning. “It truly is about the whole size of the storm.”

He said, too, that looking at the potential impact of the storm is more important than focusing on what category it is.

“The larger and slower the storm, the greater the impact, and we have that here,” Graham said, with Florence already slowing down as it begins to make landfall in North Carolina.

He added that most fatalities with tropical systems are related to water, not wind.

Rainfall predictions as of Thursday morning. Click to view larger. (Map/National Hurricane Center)

Charleston is projected to receive at least 2 to 4 inches of rain from Hurricane Florence, and Columbia is predicted to receive at least 6 to 10 inches of rain as of Thursday morning. The Upstate could receive between four and 10 inches of rain.

Graham also predicted that Charleston could see 2- to 4-foot storm surges.

“Independent of the category, it is about the speed and the size of a system that can make the storm surge really in incredible numbers here,” he said.

In a news conference yesterday, Gov. Henry McMaster urged residents to who live in low-lying areas to leave, even if an evacuation order hasn’t been issued for their area.

“This hurricane is bringing some rain and water that we have not seen before in hurricanes,” he said. “We’ve seen high winds, notably with Hugo. These winds may be that high as well, but this will likely be more rain than we saw with Hugo or other hurricanes.”

Ports

The Coast Guard set the port condition for Charleston at Yankee on Wednesday night, meaning sustained gale-force winds of 25 mph and gusts up to 40 mph may arrive within 24 hours.

The port is closed to commercial traffic while Yankee is in effect. Vessels that want to stay in port must immediately contact the port captain to receive permission.

The port condition for Georgetown is set at Zulu, meaning sustained gale-force winds of 25 mph and gusts up to 40 mph may arrive within 12 hours. No vessels may enter or move within the ports without the port captain’s permission.

Airport

Joint Base Charleston closed the Charleston International Airport runways at 11:50 p.m. Wednesday as Hurricane Florence approaches the coast.

Officials expect that flights will remain halted at least through Friday.

The Air Force issued a notice that the airfield will remain closed until Monday, although that could be lifted at any time.

Paul Campbell, CEO and executive director of the Charleston County Aviation Authority, said the Air Force could reopen runways at 7 a.m. on Saturday. He cautioned that it is too early to know for certain when flights will resume. All reopening decisions depend on the hurricane’s path and aftermath.

“The safety of our passengers and airport employees is our No. 1 priority,” Campbell said in a statement.

Travelers should contact their airlines for information on cancellations and rebooking.

Mount Pleasant Regional Airport and Charleston Executive Airport on Johns Island closed Wednesday.

Bus service

The Charleston Area Regional Transportation Authority suspended operations at 9 p.m. Wednesday, but the city of Charleston will continue to provide last-minute transportation to the Flowertown Elementary School shelter until 6 p.m. Two recreation department vans will run a police-escorted, rolling shuttle service from the Citadel Mall bus stop near Orleans Road and from Marion Square at King and Calhoun streets.

“Florence is a deadly storm on an unpredictable path, and the only safe place to be is out of harm’s way,” Charleston Mayor John Tecklenburg said Wednesday night. “If you haven’t already evacuated, now is the time to get on the road. We’ll be here to mind the store until you and your loved ones can return safely.”

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