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Hurricane Florence gains strength in the Atlantic Ocean as it moves west, seen from the International Space Station. Photo: NASA via Getty Images.

Hurricane Florence is a nightmare storm for the Carolinas and Mid-Atlantic. The reasons stem from the hurricane's power, size, forward speed and the longstanding vulnerability of the area it is forecast to hit. Click here for the latest updates on the storm.

The big picture: There are no historical analogs to compare Florence to. Its forecast track is unprecedented, and its array and magnitude of threats are as well.

The context: If Hurricane Florence makes landfall in North Carolina (north of the border area with South Carolina, where Hurricane Hazel hit in 1954) or Virginia as a Category 4 storm, it would be the strongest storm to do so that far north

Expand chart
Data: National Hurricane Center; Chart: Chris Canipe and Laz Gamio/Axios
What to watch

Wind: The maximum winds in a hurricane tend to garner the most headlines, and for good reason — they cause significant, occasionally catastrophic damage. In Florence's case, the hurricane's slow, forward motion as it comes ashore raises the possibility that some areas could see an extended duration of hurricane-force winds, which would maximize property damage and infrastructure problems, particularly to the electric grid.

Surge, when a larger storm pushes more water toward the shore than a smaller-size storm of similar intensity: Florence's angle of approach to the coastline could act to maximize the surge potential, since it may approach at a nearly 90-degree angle, much like Sandy did in New Jersey in 2012. The surge from Florence could hit record levels of 15 to 20 feet or higher.

  • The Carolinas are uniquely vulnerable to storm surge flooding because the continental shelf extends far offshore, by about 50 miles, which creates a large shallow area that enables a storm to build up water to great heights. (Other hurricane-prone areas, like southern Florida, have a steeper slope offshore, and typically see lower surge amounts.)
  • The storm surge will ride atop sea levels boosted by long-term sea level rise, which has already increased the frequency of coastal flooding, even on sunny days in the Carolinas and Mid-Atlantic.

Inland flooding: An anomalously strong area of high pressure stretching out to the storm's north, over the western Atlantic, is what is forcing the storm to turn west, into the U.S. The same high pressure area is forecast to cause the hurricane to cross the coast and hit the brakes, to devastating effect.

  • Florence will be carrying a huge amount of water vapor, lapped up from unusually mild Atlantic Ocean waters.
  • As we saw with Hurricane Harvey in 2017, stalled hurricanes and tropical storms can turn entire cities into inland oceans. Climate change has raised the odds of such torrential rainstorms as well.
Total precipitation projection from the European model on Sept. 10, 2018, shown through Sept. 16. Scale is in inches. Photo: Weatherbell.com
  • Computer models are vacillating on which areas will get the most rain, but maximum rainfall amounts above 30 inches are possible — and this swath of flooding could stretch toward or over the Washington, D.C area as well.
  • North Carolina has seen major inland floods from hurricanes before, most recently during Hurricane Matthew in 2016. This time, those floods could occur across states that have already had copious amounts of rain this summer and can't absorb much more before flooding occurs, including Virginia, Maryland, Delaware and West Virginia.

The bottom line: This storm has serious potential to make it into the history books.

Go deeper: Hurricane Florence strengthens to a Category 4 storm; Hurricane Florence on track for direct, dangerous strike

Editor's note: this story was updated on Tuesday to take into account the latest forecast information.

Go deeper

Federal judge blocks Biden's vaccine mandate for federal workers

President Biden speaking from Eisenhower Executive Office Building on Jan. 21. Photo: Yuri Gripas/Abaca/Bloomberg via Getty Images

A federal judge in Texas blocked the Biden administration from enforcing its coronavirus vaccine mandate for federal workers on Friday, citing the outcome of last week's Supreme Court ruling that nullified the administration's vaccine-or-test requirement for large employers.

Why it matters: It's a blow to President Biden's efforts to increase the U.S.' vaccination rates, though much of the federal workforce has already been vaccinated against the virus.

Updated 2 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Omicron dashboard

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

  1. Health: Pfizer and Moderna boosters overwhelmingly prevent Omicron hospitalizations, CDC finds — Omicron pushes COVID deaths toward 2,000 per day — The pandemic-proof health care giant.
  2. Vaccines: The case for Operation Warp Speed 2.0 — Starbucks drops worker vaccine or test requirement after SCOTUS ruling — Kids' COVID vaccination rates are particularly low in rural America.
  3. Politics: Biden concedes U.S. should have done more testing — Arizona says it "will not be intimidated" by Biden on anti-mask school policies.
  4. World: American Airlines flight to London forced to turn around over mask dispute — WHO: COVID health emergency could end this year — Greece imposes vaccine mandate for people 60 and older — Austria approves COVID vaccine mandate for adults.
  5. Variant tracker
Updated 3 hours ago - Economy & Business

Janet Yellen co-opts Reaganomics phrase for new Davos speech

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen at a speech this week. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

The U.S. needs to focus on increasing its productive potential, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen told world leaders Friday, calling for what she terms "modern supply side economics."

Why it matters: She co-opted a phrase traditionally used by political conservatives to describe low-tax and deregulatory policies — and framed the Biden administration's initiatives as the best path forward to achieve greater national prosperity.