Could Hurricane Florence Could Make Landfall as Category 5 Storm?

Rapidly strengthening Hurricane Florence could reach Category 5 strength and hit the East Coast at that power on landfall, said a tropical weather expert today, citing the latest hurricane models. It would be the strongest hurricane to hit the region since Hugo in 1989.

The National Hurricane Center agreed in its latest update Monday that Hurricane Florence is a powerful force likely to grow stronger in the coming days, likely making landfall as a major hurricane. The NHC said today Florence will likely become a Category 5 storm.

"Unfortunately, the models were right. Florence has rapidly intensified into an extremely dangerous hurricane..." the NHC said in its 5 p.m. ET update Monday.

"...the intensity forecast is raised from the previous one, bringing Florence close to category 5 strength tomorrow," the NHC said. "Near landfall, the vertical wind shear could increase, along with the increasing likelihood of eyewall cycles. While the intensity forecast shows some weakening of the maximum winds near landfall, the wind field is expected to grow with time, which increases the storm surge and inland wind threats.

"The bottom line is that there is high confidence that Florence will be a large and extremely dangerous hurricane, regardless of its exact intensity.

Hurricane Florence's latest forecast path from the National Hurricane Center shows the storm making landfall in North Carolina, near the South Carolina border.

Earlier today, Hurricane Florence strengthened to Category 4, with maximum sustained winds of 130 miles per hour. Forecast models today showed that Hurricane Florence could now become a Category 5 storm, making landfall along the East Coast at that strength, said tropical weather expert Dr. Michael Ventrice, a meteorological scientist and software engineer with The Weather Company.

"The weather model news just keeps getting worse for the Carolinas," tweeted Dr. Ventrice, who has a Ph.D. in tropical meteorology. "Based off recent intensity adjustments, we are now seeing the potential for Major Hurricane #Florence to achieve a Category 5 intensity prior to landfalling across the Carolinas. If correct, devastating news."

A Category 5 hurricane has winds of 157 miles per hour or higher. The last major hurricane to hit South Carolina was Hugo in 1989, making landfall just north of Charleston.

South Carolina's governor is preparing for the worst. He ordered the state's entire coastline to be evacuated beginning at noon on Tuesday. Florence isn't expected to hit until late Thursday, but the Carolinas are expected to get tropical storm force conditions by Thursday morning.

The bigger and stronger Hurricane Florence becomes, the more problems it could cause beyond the coast. The latest forecasts suggest that a new pressure ridge will form over the Great Lakes this week, slowing the progress of Hurricane Florence, the National Hurricane Center said. If the storm stalls, it could drench the Carolinas, including the Appalachian Mountains, and the mid-Atlantic with devastating rainfall.

National Hurricane Center Director Ken Graham warned that Florence was forecast to linger over the Carolinas once it reached shore, the AP reported. People living well inland should prepare to lose power and endure flooding and other hazards, Graham warned.

"It's not just the coast," Graham said. "When you stall a system like this and it moves real slow, some of that rainfall can extend well away from the center."