AmericanHort keeping eyes on Hurricane Florence, Carolinas

Yesterday morning, AmericanHort sent out an e-mail to their 2018 Plug & Cutting Conference to say they’re keeping an eye on Hurricane Florence. In its 2 p.m. Eastern advisory on Tuesday, the National Weather Service reports Hurricane Florence, category 4 storm, is located about 845 miles east southeast of Cape Fear, North Carolina.

As of right now (which is 2:43 p.m. on Sept. 11 by my reckoning), AmericanHort’s partners for the Plug & Cutting Conference has given the nod to still plan on hosting the conference.

“We’ve checked in with Metrolina Greenhouses, we’ve checked in with Rockwell Farms, and we checked in with the hotel, and they all say we’re a go,” said Shanan Atkinson, AmericanHort’s trade show manager.

However, as Atkinson and I are both longtime residents of the southeastern United States, we know that comment must be read with an asterisk. It should read: “… they all say we’re a go.*”

* – for now

We’re still four days out from its expected landfall in North Carolina, but that only tells the story of where the eye of the storm will hit. It doesn’t tell the story of what could happen before or after that point in time.

Hurricane Hugo serves as a reminder of what can happen

Twenty-nine years ago this month, Hurricane Hugo directly hit Charleston, South Carolina, as a Category 4 storm. It was still a hurricane when its path crossed I-77 between Columbia, South Carolina, and Charlotte, North Carolina, according to the National Hurricane Center archives.

Hurricane Florence 1

After passing inland, Hurricane Hugo was not done wreaking havoc. Electric power was interrupted throughout Charlotte, North Carolina. Some areas were without power for up to 3 weeks. Photo: Ron Kuhn, NOAA

Five hours after Hugo made landfall, wind gusts of up to 100 mph were recorded in Charlotte.
By the time the storm made it to the mountains of Virginia and West Virginia – where it was still producing tropical storm-force winds – Hurricane Hugo caused devastation throughout the entire state of North Carolina.

Unlike tornadoes, which cut a devastating path along an exact corridor, hurricanes are more than just the track of the storm’s eye. Tropical-storm force winds (45 mph to 74 mph) can go for hundreds of miles outside of the eye in a hurricane’s outer bands.

Even though Charlotte did not take a direct hit, here’s a damage report from Hurricane Hugo, as explained by the National Hurricane Center:

“This city was forever changed by Hugo which was still packing hurricane-force wind gusts nearly 200 miles from the ocean. Countless trees crashed into homes and fell across power lines, creating widespread and long-lasting power outages. Newspaper reports indicated 85 percent of homes and businesses in Charlotte were without power after the storm. Downtown skyscrapers in Charlotte had large windows blown out by winds, raining debris into the streets below. WSOC-TV’s 400-foot tall antenna tower was blown down onto the station itself. Hugo was responsible for three fatalities in the Charlotte area.”

My co-worker Phillip Barnhardt, a lifelong resident of this area, remembers Hurricane Hugo all too well. His Mount Pleasant home was without power for a week and a half. I bring this up because where he lived was only five miles or so away from where Rockwell Farms is located.

(I was still in high school at the time in Titusville, Florida. I remember refugees from the Bahamas appearing on my school bus one day wearing T-shirts that read, “I survived Hurricane Hugo.” I still remember how cheerful they were even though they had lost everything.)

Hurricane Florence: Be alert and stay prepared

The National Hurricane Center has become more and more reliable about its hurricane forecasting models. But they are the first to tell you these are only predictions. Granted, they’re made with the most scientifically educated guesses as possible, but there’s still a chance Florence may do whatever Florence wants to do.

As of right now, there’s still enough time for Hurricane Florence to wiggle off its projected path. Weather systems affecting its path could run faster or slower than predicted, meaning Florence could spin out to sea before hitting land or be pushed farther south and hit around Charleston again.

Hurricane Florence 2

As you can see, high winds are projected for most of North Carolina as Hurricane Florence passes through the area. Image courtesy of NOAA.

And once it gets here, it could decide to stick around for a while. As it stands right now, the storm is projected to hit the coast and stall out over North Carolina for a few days. While it won’t stay a hurricane for the entire time, that doesn’t mean it’s any less devastating.

Hurricanes are more than just wind. If Florence stalls out on the coast, it will churn heavy rains across the Carolinas for days on end. With regular storms projected all this week in the Metrolina area, this could cause devastating flooding here on the Piedmont, as well as down trees and power lines from the saturated ground.

This is not meant to put anyone in a panic, but to make sure people coming in from other parts of the country to stay prepared and keep an eye on the news. The folks at AmericanHort are going to do their best to stay on top of the situation.

“We’re pushing out communications and we’re contacting our partners on the ground,” Atkinson said. “We’re going t communicate clearly and often.”

That’s really the best anyone could hope for. We all might get an e-mail on Friday that says they’ll have to cancel. It’s anyone’s guess for right now.

But we also recommend not only keeping an eye out on reports from AmericanHort and the National Weather Service, but also on plane reservations. It may take a lot less for airlines to cancel flights to Charlotte-Douglas International Airport and Concord Regional Airport.

We’re going to keep an eye on this developing situation and help keep everyone posted as well. We still hope to see everyone next week for the 2018 Plug & Cutting Conference.

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