York, Chester and Lancaster counties could see as much as 10 inches of rain, with sustained tropical-force winds, under a new forecast that shows Hurricane Florence shifting toward South Carolina, emergency officials said.
Days of rain, coupled with tropical-force winds of 40 mph or greater, could lead to building and tree damage, even if winds alone are not strong enough to topple buildings, leaders said.
The most recent forecast, issued Wednesday morning, shows six to 10 inches of rain with road flooding expected as the storm moves slowly with a more direct impact on South Carolina.
York County Sheriff’s Office officials confirmed the possibility of up to 10 inches of rain over several days. Police urged motorists to prepare before the storm hits and not to try to drive through flooded streets or roads.
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“A foot of water can be deadly,,” said Trent Faris, spokesperson for the sheriff’s office.
York County’s early Wednesday morning forecast was raised from around 5 inches from the storm to as much as double that with 10 inches possible, emergency officials said late Wednesday morning during a conference call with state emergency management officials. The new forecast also impacts Chester and Lancaster counties, officials said.
The new forecast shows “Lancaster County will fare worse, if this scenario verifies with an actual track,” said Darren Player, Lancaster County Emergency Management Director, in an email statement Wednesday morning.
A slow moving storm, with sustained tropical force winds of about 40 mph, plus consistent heavy rain over hours and days, could mean downed trees and building and window damage as roofs and other building materials become battered and soaked, Player said.
“Winds at 40 mph, sustained over hours and maybe days, with rain going on throughout, can cause damage to buildings, windows, and knock down trees that are already weak because of wet ground,” Player said. “The winds projected for here are not catastrophic for damage alone. But the length of time for those sustained winds, plus continued rain can be what causes damage.”
Downed trees are usually the culprits that cause power outages after limbs and trunks fall on lines, Player said.
Roads that are soaked for days also can be weakened and damaged, Player said.
“All these kinds of damage are possible if there are sustained winds and rain that lasts for days,” Player said.
Chuck Haynes, director of York County Emergency Management, said the public should prepare for at least a weekend of rain.
“The trend right now is this is going to be a weekend event,” Haynes said Wednesday morning. “But as we know, the projected path could change again.”
The potential for flooding remains, Haynes said.
“Areas where people have experienced flooding before in storms should be prepared for the possibility again,” Haynes said.
Rain in front of the storm could begin Thursday night or Friday morning, he said.
Tropical rains from Florence are expected to begin Friday night and into Saturday and could last through the weekend, and potentially longer, Haynes said.
Some heavy wind gusts ahead of the storm could be felt as early as Thursday night, Haynes said.
However, because the most recent forecast calls for the storm to move slowly as it reaches land, the wind gusts in York County from the storm may not be as strong as previously expected, Haynes said.
If the forecast holds to a similar track, Saturday and Sunday would be the heaviest days of rain for York County, Haynes said.
Chester County Emergency Management Director Eddie Murphy said areas prone to flooding, such as places in downtown Chester that have previously flooded, should be prepared for heavy rain and possible flooding.
“If the water keeps coming up in those areas where people have seen it before, they need to be prepared to go on and get out,” Murphy said.
Haynes said Florence is expected to move far slower than Hurricane Hugo in 1989. That storm brought hurricane-force winds to the area and knocked out electrical power to hundreds of thousands of people for days.
Hugo moved through South Carolina much faster, so its winds were higher, Haynes said.
“Florence is expected to move far slower, so the winds are expected to be less of a factor here,” Haynes said. “These are two different storms. Florence right now looks better for wind, but could be worse for rain.”
Check back for updates on this developing story.