Florence on deck to deliver devastating punch

Hurricane Matthew did Robeson County no favors, unless we count this one: Forever and beyond, those who lived through it and had to recover from it, will not have to be warned more than once to take the threat of a cyclone seriously and to prepare accordingly.

Been there, been done by that.

As this is being written, well in advance of it being read by you, the news regarding Hurricane Florence, at last, was trending in a positive direction — at least for this county. The Category 4’s storm track was drifting ever so slightly northward, putting Lumberton and Robeson County increasingly to the west of its eye, where the wind and the rain are less furious.

Was.

Then it changed, and changed again. Florence seems intent on toying with us before delivering her blow.

As much as we do know about hurricanes, what we have been unable to figure out with any satisfying certainty is where they will be three or even two days into the future.

What we do believe can be forecast is that Florence will be a much different event than Matthew in terms how it causes havoc.

Matthew, which wasn’t even a hurricane when it arrived in Robeson County, was primarily a rain event, which pushed the Lumber River, already at flood level, out of its banks and into our homes and businesses. Power was knocked out, but mostly restored in a reasonable time, and the biggest lingering problem was the lack of clean water because of damage done to Lumberton’s water plant. Plans are to build a berm around the water plant to protect it from similar destruction in the future, but as all things with Matthew, the funding has moved with the speed of a glacier — so the plant remains vulnerable as Florence closes in.

Florence, as currently constructed, will give us a soaking, but a recent dry spell will allow the ground to absorb it and the Lumber River has 6 feet to rise first before it even gets to flood stage. A foot and half of rain in a single day rose the river by about 10 feet to never-seen-before levels during Matthew, but even a repeat of that would not cause anywhere near the devastation we saw the week that began with Oct. 9 in 2016.

Florence is looking to us more like Fran, which delivered a heavy blow to Robeson County in September 1996 before moving up the Interstate 40 corridor and causing chaos in Raleigh. Fran’s legacy is the downed trees and power lines that plunged so much of North Carolina into the dark for days in some places, weeks in others.

Florence, wherever it heads, is most likely to arrive in North Carolina as the most powerful storm since Hazel in 1954. For those who didn’t live through Hazel, pictures tell the story of destruction. At that time, however, today’s technology did not exist, and a hurricane could essentially sneak up on its prey, providing little preparation time.

Florence is different. People clearly are taking this storm as seriously as the threat it poses demands. If the worst happens, Robeson County could see winds that approach triple-digits that will destroy structures, topple trees and power lines, knock out power — and, we fear, earn the moniker of killer.

Barring some kid of meteorologic miracle, Florence will either hit this county head-on or deliver a glancing blow that will be almost as devastating.

It will be a difficult few days for all of us. We hope to see you on the other side safe and sound.