Hurricane Florence’s heavy winds and rain have prompted a first round of tornado watches along coastal North Carolina. The watch is in effect until 9 p.m. Thursday.
The threat is predicted to increase through Thursday and Friday, as the center of Florence moves closer to shore, said the National Hurricane Center.
As of Thursday morning, winds in 40 to 73 mph range were extending 195 miles out from the center of the 300-mile-wide storm, said a NHC update.
Fifteen coastal counties in NC have been told to brace for potential tornadoes, including Beaufort, Carteret, Craven, Dare, Duplin, Greene, Hyde, Jones, Lenoir, Martin, Onslow, Pamlico, Pitt, Tyrrell and Washington.
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The National Hurricane Center predicted early Thursday that the chance of a tornado in those areas jumped to 5 percent in the hours before the storm made landfall. Among the cities facing the greatest possibility are Greenville, Jacksonville, New Bern, Kinston and Havelock, the NHC reported.
Cities immediately outside that zone faced a 2 percent chance of seeing a tornado, including Wilmington, Rocky Mount, Wilson, Goldsboro and Elizabeth City, the National Weather Service said.
“The tornado threat should gradually increase into this evening as stronger low-level flow/shear (near the storm’s) center moves inland across coastal NC,” said a National Hurricane Center statement.
Experts remained unsure Thursday of the storm’s path through the Carolinas, which means new counties could be added to the tornado later in the day, said the NHC. It is believed the hurricane will eventually move through northern South Carolina, said the NHC.