A hurricane warning was issued Thursday morning for Wayne County as Hurricane Florence churned its way to an expected landfall Friday near Wilmington.
The warning means that the 36-hour window for hurricane conditions — sustained winds of 74 mph or higher — are expected Thursday night.
All Wayne County and Goldsboro government offices closed at 2 p.m. Thursday and will remain closed Friday.
Mount Olive town offices also closed Thursday and will remain closed Friday.
The county’s Emergency Operations Center began full operations at 8 a.m. Thursday.
“The National Weather Service estimates tropical storm force winds (of 39 to 73 mph) will increase between the hours of 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. today (Thursday), and we want our employees home safely,” County Manager Craig Honeycutt said.
Florence is expected to make landfall around 2 a.m. Friday before stalling and beginning a slow southwest move into South Carolina around 2 a.m. Saturday as a tropical storm.
As of 5 a.m. Thursday, Florence — a Category 2 hurricane — had maximum sustained winds of 110 mph and was located about 205 miles east-southeast of Wilmington moving northwest at 15 mph.
County residents can expect sustained wind speeds of 35 to 50 mph over the next 72 hours starting Thursday with maximum wind gusts around 63 mph.
The potential exists for a few tornadoes through Saturday evening.
The main threat for the county is flooding, and the county remains under a flash-flood watch until 8 p.m. Saturday.
Flash flooding and eventually river flooding is likely Thursday night and expected to persist through the weekend and into early next week.
Dangerous flash flooding could pose a significant threat to life and property, according to the National Weather Service.
Between 10 and 20 inches of rainfall is expected through Monday. Higher amounts near 25 inches are possible.
Major river flooding will continue through early next week. The rivers most likely to flood include the Neuse, Little, Cape Fear and Black.
As of 9 a.m.Thursday, the Neuse River was at 5.62 feet and was expected to rise to 22.3 feet by 10 a.m. Tuesday. Neuse River level predictions are only currently available through Tuesday.
Minor flooding will begin when the river reaches 18 feet and moderate flooding starts at 20 feet. Major flooding takes place when the river is at 24 feet.
In October 2016 after Hurricane Matthew dumped around 16 inches of rain on the county, the Neuse River was observed at 29.72 feet — nearly a foot above the previous record of 28.9 feet and almost 12 feet above the 18-foot flood stage.
Sustained winds of 40 to 50 mph, with gusts to 65 to 70 mph, during Hurricane Florence are likely to result in widespread downed trees and prolonged power outages.
“Based on the latest track and overall forecast for Florence, our modeling projects we expect to see somewhere between 1 million and 3 million outages — this equates to impacting a population of approximately 2.5 million to 7.5 million people — across our Carolinas service area,” said Duke Energy spokesman Bill Norton.
Historical data and company experience indicate that total power restoration from a storm of this magnitude could take multiple days to several weeks, depending on the extent of damage and post-storm conditions, such as ongoing high winds and severe flooding, after the storm plows though the region, he said.
“Duke Energy has a detailed storm response plan in place,” Norton said. “We will have enough crews in the Carolinas to restore power, but restoration cannot begin until the storm has passed and our workers can safely access impacted communities.
“Restoration efforts will be further delayed if the storm stalls, which could result in significant flooding limiting access to power equipment and additional structural damage.”