About 7 inches of rain is a safe bet when it comes to Hurricane Florence and Greater Williamsburg.
Meteorologists have revised the forecast for Hampton Roads down from a projected rainfall of as high as 15 inches to about 7 inches, according to National Weather Service at Wakefield meteorologist-in-charge Jeff Orrock. From Williamsburg to Hampton, coastal flooding and tropical storm force winds could blow in as early as Thursday.
On Monday, Orrock called Florence “a hide from the wind, run from the water type of storm.”
Florence strengthened into a Category 4 storm on Monday, and the National Weather Service expects Virginia to South Carolina to feel its effects as early as Thursday afternoon.
Both the Williamsburg-James City County School Division and the York County School Division are closed until further notice due to the hurricane.
The current projected forecast line has Florence’s eye making landfall between Thursday and Friday near the border of North Carolina and South Carolina, according to the National Hurricane Center forecasts.
The hurricane was about 1,000 miles off the east coast of North Carolina on Tuesday, but Orrock said now’s the time to evacuate or prepare and batten down the hatches for anyone in the path of the storm.
The storm is expected to bring potentially dangerous winds to the entire forecast area, including Hampton Roads, potential tornadoes, storm surge, flooding and dangerous marine conditions from Thursday into Saturday, according to a National Weather Service news release.
There is a slight chance the James River watershed could become so inundated with water from the storm that a flood wave could appear, but Orrock said meteorologists will need more information over the coming few days to determine how likely it is.
Hampton Roads and the rest of the lower Chesapeake Bay should expect Florence to bring storm surge and about 7 inches of rain, Orrock said on Tuesday.
“If we have a lot of frequent winds above 60 mph then we're going to have a lot of trees coming down,” Orrock said Monday.
The National Weather Service is becoming more confident that Florence could stall over land causing significant flooding in the hurricane’s wake, Orrock said, however the damage could be limited further south than previous forecasts expected.
An experimental flooding forecast service offered by the National Weather Service indicated parts of Williamsburg, James City and York counties could experience more than three feet of coastal flooding.
Coastal flooding could occur throughout the region on Thursday and through the weekend, according to the release.
There’s a flood warning in effect for James City County until Wednesday morning that is unrelated to Florence.
Parts of York and James City counties have received evacuation orders from the Virginia Department of Emergency Management ahead of the storm.
One of the evacuees, Historic Jamestowne’s emeritus director of archaeology and research Bill Kelso.
Kelso lives in the caretaker’s house on Jamestown Island and is one of two people ordered to evacuate their home in James City County — the other person is his wife Ellen.
The first floor of the cottage is 8 feet above sea level, Bill Kelso said. After a few close calls, Hurricane Isabel in 2003 taught Kelso to leave before the storm, he said.
The Kelsos are headed for their log cabin in a mountain hollow of Charlottesville, Bill Kelso said.
While Bill Kelso leaves the island, archaeologists with the Jamestown Rediscovery Foundation are preparing various sites across the island for the storm.
Workers are mending tarps, filling sandbags, and laying down plywood sheets inside the Memorial Church to preserve artifacts underneath.
Archaeologist Mary Anna Hartley said she expects crews to finish their storm preparations by Wednesday afternoon.
Over the years, the project has seen three major hurricanes, Fran, Isabel and Irene, Hartley said.
“We have some idea what we’re in for in terms of flooding, and the rain, and the trees down,” Hartley said.
While evacuations have been ordered for the island, the National Park Service had not announced closures of the island as of midday Tuesday.
But, if National Weather Service predictions are correct for Florence, the island could see several feet of storm surge flood the low-lying area.
To be sure, the track of the hurricane remains somewhat uncertain, but the region needs to prepare for the worst, Orrock said.
“Don’t think after this thing makes landfall it’s over,” Orrock said, before adding he thinks Florence will last through the weekend.
In the midst of hurricane preparations, Spring Arbor of Williamsburg opened its doors to one of the most at-risk populations during natural disasters: the elderly.
The residential assisted living and Alzheimer's care facility houses 73 residents, but in the midst of the hurricane, the center is taking in an additional 51 residents from a sister home in the Outer Banks of North Carolina.
On Monday, a mandatory evacuation was issued for all residents of the Outer Banks to leave by 7 a.m. Sept. 11.
Spring Arbor has emergency plans for situations like this, according to spokeswoman Linda Schiavone. While some rooms will have multiple cots, Schiavone said there was room for everyone to stay in Williamsburg.
In addition to the 51 residents, the home is putting up 12 staff. Cynthia Odden, regional director for HHHunt Senior Living, said the staff from the Outer Banks and from Spring Arbor will be staying in nearby hotels.
“Obviously we don’t know if there’s going to be bad weather, flooding, trees down,” Odden said.
One of the hardest thing about transporting the residents from the Outer Banks is that they are very frail, and have a lot of medicine and medical supplies to bring, Odden said. Several residents are receiving hospice care.
Odden said the organization has prepared for the extra guests by ordering enough food for 200 people a day. There’ll be plenty of mouths to feed too: the home will have to take care of the residents, staff and possibly some of the staff’s children.
As evacuees like those in the assisted living home continue to leave their homes, the Virginia Department of Emergency Management is encouraging Virginians to know their evacuation zone.
Know Your Zone
Area residents should be aware of what hurricane evacuation zone they live in. The majority of the Williamsburg area, including the city itself and most of James City and upper York counties, aren’t in a designated evacuation zone.
People who live or work in areas not located in designated zones aren’t expected to need to evacuate due to any planned-for storm situations, according to the Virginia Department of Emergency Management website.
However, some areas of James City along the Chickahominy River, Diascund Creek and the James River are designated as evacuation zones, according to the Virginia Department of Emergency Management website. To determine whether your address is in an evacuation zone, visit www.KnowYourZoneVA.org.
In York County, county staff began meeting about the hurricane last week, according to York County Fire and Life Safety Chief and Emergency Management Director Stephen Kopczynski.
Fire and life safety workers are checking backup systems including generators and communications systems to make sure no matter how bad the storm is, they’ll be ready, Kopczynski said.
If residents lose internet access, they can access evacuation zone information by calling 757-253-6612, according to a James City news release.
Amelia Heymann and Jack Jacobs contributed reporting.
What to expect
Starting as early as Thursday afternoon:
- About 7 inches of rain including periods of extremely heavy rainfall
- Coastal and freshwater flooding
- Tropical-storm-force winds
The storm could stall and last through the weekend.
The Surry Power Plant will conduct routine emergency siren testing on Wednesday at 11:20 a.m., according to a City of Williamsburg news release. The testing is unrelated to Hurricane Florence.
To report downed electrical lines or check on power restoration efforts, call Dominion Energy at 1-866-366-4357 or on the Internet at dominionenergy.com/outage-center/report-and-check-outages.
To check on Internet or telephone service, call Cox Communications at 1-800-234-3993 or on the Internet at www.cox.com.
Roberts can be reached at 757-604-1329 or on Twitter @SPRobertsJr.