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Florence begins assault on North Carolina coastline

Isaac, Helene, Joyce keep National Hurricane Center busy

PEMBROKE PARK, Fla. – Hurricane Florence's initial assault on the North Carolina coast is underway. Top winds near the center of the storm have decreased to 100 mph – Category 2, but the strong winds have also spread out, which will result in the storm surge over a larger area.  Recall that Hurricane Ike was a similar Category 2 when it came ashore near Houston 10 years ago, with catastrophic results in unprotected coastal communities.

WATCH LIVE - Beach cams show Florence's arrival in real time

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Florence's top winds are estimated at 105 mph – Category 2. The center is now about 100 miles from North Carolina. Gusty squalls are already impacting the coast.

The winds from Hurricane Florence will increase in surges on the North Carolina coast Thursday afternoon, but the forward motion of the storm will also continue to slow down, so it will take until tomorrow until the highest winds will be blowing, and the peak storm surge – the ocean water pushed up over the land – comes in. The strong winds will last into Saturday.

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When the center of Florence gets near the coast or just across the North Carolina coastline, it will turn to the left and head toward South Carolina. The storm surge will continue into Friday, and catastrophic inland flooding is expected near and north of Florence's path.

Here are the key messages from the National Hurricane Center concerning Hurricane Florence:

1. A life-threatening storm surge is now highly likely along portions of the coastlines of South Carolina and North Carolina, and a storm surge warning is in effect for a portion of this area. All interests in these areas should complete preparations and follow any advice given by local officials.

2. Life-threatening, catastrophic flash flooding and prolonged significant river flooding are likely over portions of the Carolinas and the southern and central Appalachians late this week into early next week, as Florence is expected to slow down as it approaches the coast and moves inland.

3. Damaging hurricane-force winds are likely along portions of the coasts of South Carolina and North Carolina, and a Hurricane Warning is in effect. Strong winds could also spread inland into portions of the Carolinas.

4. Large swells affecting Bermuda, portions of the U.S. East Coast, and the northwestern and central Bahamas will continue this week, resulting in life-threatening surf and rip currents.

Tropical Storm Isaac is moving through the eastern Caribbean islands at this time with gusty winds and heavy rain for some locations.  The center of circulation has passed into the Caribbean near Dominica. 

Invest 95L, which is the National Hurricane Center designation for the system we are watching in the central Gulf of Mexico, may organize into at least a tropical depression before impacting the western Gulf coast from Mexico through Texas to Louisiana by Friday.

Isaac will move past the eastern Caribbean islands by late Thursday. Guadeloupe, Dominica, and Martinique will feel the most impact. The northern Caribbean islands -- the Greater Antilles -- including Puerto Rico and the southern U.S. Virgin Islands, may also feel some fringe effects from the storm.  

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After Isaac passes into the Caribbean Sea, it is forecast to weaken and essentially die out. Computer models that have shown it restrengthening and moving into the Gulf are discounted at this time, but the system will have to be watched for the next several days in case it reorganizes.

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Here are the key messages from the National Hurricane Center concerning Isaac:

1. Isaac is expected to produce tropical-storm-force winds across portions of the Lesser Antilles on Thursday morning and afternoon, and tropical storm warnings are in effect for Martinique, Dominica, and Guadeloupe.

2. Tropical storm watches are in effect for Montserrat, St. Kitts and Nevis, Antigua, Barbuda, Saba and St. Eustatius, St. Maarten, and St. Martin. Tropical storm conditions are possible on these islands Thursday and interests on those islands should follow any advice given by their local officials.

Invest 95L, the system in the Gulf of Mexico, will move west toward Texas. The National Hurricane Center give it a 50 percent chance of organizing into at least tropical depression before it reaches the coast. In any case, it will bring heavy rain and some gusty winds to the northern Mexico, Texas, and possibly part of Louisiana coast.

Hurricane Helene, Subtropical Storm Joyce and the potential disturbance are not expected to affect land in the next five days, if at all.

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