Hurricane Florence is expected to cross the US East Coast sometime tomorrow. Earlier reports had the path of the hurricane hitting the central North Carolina coast before dumping heavy rains across North Carolina and parts of Virginia. The latest track, however, has it moving further south, with the most recent data from the National Weather Service showing a crossing very close to the North and South Carolina border.
At this stage, Florence is weakening and will likely be a category 1 or 2 hurricane by the time it crosses the coast, with winds still expected to be very strong, especially along coastal and adjacent areas. Florence is also slowing down, which means rainfall totals are likely to be extremely high and threaten records for many parts of North and South Carolina. Rain and flooding will be the main hazard for growers. The National Weather Service is forecasting some areas of North Carolina to see an incredible 20 - 30 inches of rain with heavy rainfall spread across the entire state as well as South Carolina.
Forecast track map (Image: National Weather Service)
Sweet potatoes might fare better than first thought
Many growers were understandably stressed and very busy, invariably driving around checking storehouses, or directing crop movements and unable to speak at length. They did, however, mention that they were preparing as best as possible.
"Widespread flooding is expected but it will be hard to tell exactly where until it hits land because the course keeps changing," said one sweet potato grower. "The sweet potato season has started so it's a critical time for us. The temporary ease on transport restrictions has helped out a bit."
Another sweet potato grower was hopeful that the shifting course could spare the crop from the worst effects, which were initially predicted. There is however, great concern for the wider community. "The hurricane is shifting to a more southerly direction," he said. "This alleviates the hazard somewhat from our area and might mean that sweet potatoes will be affected less than first thought. However, we are doing as much as we can to prepare and we will also be focusing on helping the local community in whatever capacity we can."
The North Carolina SweetPotato Commission also released a statement highlighting farmer's efforts in preparing for the hurricane. "Farmers have been working day and night to harvest as much of their crops as they can, along with preparing their facilities and personal property in the potential path of the storm," said Kelly McIver of the NCSPC. "It is important to get as many potatoes out of the ground as possible as warm air and soil temperatures can speed up rot."
"Covington, one of the most popular varieties of North Carolina sweet potatoes, have proven to be fairly weather tolerant," McIver added. "We are also optimistic that the cooler weather forecast for next week will help keep storage facilities as cool as possible, which would help with storage in the case of post-storm power outages. Following the storm, the North Carolina SweetPotato Commission will work closely with all of our farmers to assess damages."
Projected rainfall totals (Image: National Weather Service)
Corn, beans, tomatoes still a major concern
Sweet potato growers are still facing an extreme hazard, but there are growers of other crops such as corn, beans and tomatoes that might face heavier losses due to wind. Most of the summer crops like squash, blueberries and watermelons have finished in this area now, but everyone in the affected region is looking out for each other.
"Everybody is getting ready and battening down in preparation for the storm," said Tony Moore of H.C. Schmieding Produce in Turkey, North Carolina. "Chainsaws have been brought in to help clean up and we have generators ready. Our summer crops have been completed, but we have neighbors that are growing corn as well as sweet potatoes and we are concerned for them. Particularly the corn growers will be affected by winds which will blow the plants over. It's a wait and see game."
For more information:
North Carolina SweetPotato Commission
Tel: +1 (919) 894-1067
H.C. Schmieding Produce
Tel: +1 (910) 592-6782