Hurricane Florence is bearing down on the eastern United States, and by the weekend it could be seen as one of the most devastating natural disasters in American history, with loss of life and property across multiple states based on current ominous forecasts.
Florence is currently taking aim at North Carolina as a Category 4 hurricane, with sustained wind speeds of 130mph that are set to rise still further. While the exact path of Florence is unclear, the threat very much is – and that threat could spread an enormous distance from wherever it makes landfall, as Florence is not just a dot on the radar but a massive spinning cyclone several hundred miles wide.
Worse yet, Florence is forecast to move very slowly after landfall – which is not typical for a hurricane, and could lead to historically intense rainfall extending into the weekend and beyond. Hurricane Harvey last year was one of the most deadly and costly hurricanes in American history precisely because it stalled long enough to produce record-breaking rainfall.
While it seems insulting to think about the impact on sport of what is likely to be a historically devastating storm, the affected areas have their sporting and cultural traditions like any other, football very much included. Here’s a roundup of the potential impact of Florence on NFL and NCAA football this weekend.
Numerous NCAA games off
The entire South Carolina coastline was subject to a mandatory evacuation order on Tuesday, while similar orders are being issued on a county-by-county basis in North Carolina, where Florence is expected to make landfall. Virginia is also at risk.
There’s more than a few college football teams in those areas, many of them at home this week. Unsurprisingly, that’s led to a spate of cancellations.
This includes North Carolina’s home game with Central Florida – the second consecutive season the Knights have had a hurricane-related cancellation of a game against a Power 5 opponent – and West Virginia’s trip to NC State. Whilst both of these games would take place well inland, the expected stalling of Florence could cause substantial inland flooding. Policing would also likely be an issue given the expected coastal devastation.
Coastal Carolina have moved their game with Campbell to Wednesday afternoon and to Campbell’s home field in inland North Carolina, while Wake Forest’s home game with Boston College – already scheduled for Thursday night – has been provisionally nudged to a 5:30 kickoff pending further news on Florence’s uncertain path.
Southern and central Virginia are firmly in the firing line for immense rainfall from a stalled Florence, with some forecasts predicting over a foot of rain in these areas.
Virginia’s home game with Ohio has now moved out of the danger zone, the teams agreeing to play the game in Vanderbilt Stadium in Nashville (which should be shielded from Florence by the Appalachian Mountains). Virginia Tech were also scheduled for a home game against East Carolina, which is directly in Florence’s line of fire; the Pirates have announced they will not be travelling to that game, “citing significant imminent safety concerns.” Virginia Tech planned to make a call on the game’s status on Wednesday, presumably based on the forecasts for their area; evidently this was too late for comfort for ECU.
Fellow North Carolina school Duke are on the road to Baylor, and that game will go ahead.
What about the Panthers?
When a devastating hurricane is heading for the Carolinas, an obvious team to wonder about is the Carolina Panthers.
Fortunately, they are on the road this Sunday, in a divisional clash with the Atlanta Falcons. Florence is tracking too far north to present a major threat to Georgia at landfall – and even if Florence turns to the west after stalling, it will be slow to reach Georgia – so this game can currently be assumed to go ahead.
Whether the Panthers’ Charlotte home – comfortably inland on the southern edge of North Carolina – will be affected significantly by the storm’s inland flooding risk remains an open question, one which may affect how the team prepares for this game.
Various forecast models disagree significantly over where will be most affected. A stalled Florence is more likely to produce catastrophic rainfall in its northeastern bands – remember, this storm is several hundred miles wide – due to how hurricanes rotate anti-clockwise, meaning that northeastern quadrant will be picking up ocean moisture from the storm’s rotation. As such, Charlotte would be relatively safe if the storm takes a northward drift after landfall. However, some models suggest a different track which could affect Charlotte and South Carolina much more.
The Panthers are forecast to be at home for a Week 3 clash with the Bengals; it is way too early to wonder about the status of that game.
NFL games facing indirect impact
At this point, no NFL games look likely to be postponed or moved by Florence. However, a storm of this size with its forecast lack of movement is set to bring heavy rain across multiple states all weekend. The remnants of Tropical Storm Gordon, even several days after landfall, remained a significant rain-producing system that affected the Steelers-Browns game in Cleveland many hundreds of miles from its landfall location.
While Carolina doesn’t have a home game this weekend, Washington does, and their home of FedEx Field – set to play host to the Colts on Sunday – could easily be hit by those outer rain bands of Florence. Rainfall forecasts for the Washington area are wildly inconsistent; the National Weather Service forecast on Tuesday afternoon called for well over six inches of rain from Florence in Washington, while other models have the area almost unscathed. It all comes down to how far Florence arcs north before stalling and which direction the next movement is afterwards.
While forecast models are backing away from a Washington-area impact, there’s a ton of uncertainty for the weekend. Andrew Luck fantasy owners should have a backup plan (that isn’t Alex Smith from the same game) just in case, because it’s hard to see Capt. Luck firing his sidearm into a rainstorm too often.
The headline late-afternoon game between the Patriots and the Jaguars is also safe, with the only danger from Florence in Jacksonville, Florida being minor tidal flooding. Note the specific mention of the state – the much smaller Jacksonville in North Carolina is right in line for the worst of Florence…
Of course, it bears repeating...
…football is just a game. What’s likely to occur in North Carolina in particular is absolutely terrifying. The storm forecast resembles the pattern of Hurricane Harvey, and many affected by Harvey are still picking up the pieces. We can only hope that Florence is somehow not equally devastating.