ble from the high tide line.
“It’s better to be safe than sorry,” said Craig Pollock, supervisor of lifeguards for Palm Beach. “It will be some very strong surf.”
And all the more dangerous because of its lengthy duration and the forecast calling for partly to mostly sunny skies — weather that might draw more people to the shore for a beach day not realizing that muscle-bound waves and rip currents await.
With 12 to 13 seconds between swells, people could venture unwittingly into the water thinking it’s calm.
“They walk out and look and don’t see any waves and think it’s OK. Then a big set will come through,” said Steve Kaes, training officer for Palm Beach County Ocean Rescue’s South District.
Kaes also cautions against standing close to the water’s edge.
“Shore break can knock people down onto the ground, break bones, dislocate joints; it’s very dangerous,” he said.
Florence’s wind speeds slowed to 120 mph Wednesday, making it a Category 3 storm. Earlier in the day, it was a Category 4 storm with winds of 130 mph.
National Hurricane Center forecasters cautioned against paying too much attention to a drop in wind speeds as the storm has expanded in size “resulting in an increase in the cyclone’s total energy, which will create a significant storm surge event.”
Hurricane force-winds extend 70 miles from the center of the storm, while tropical-storm-force winds now reach out 195 miles from its center.
While forecasters said Florence still has a window of about 24 hours for strengthening, they do not expect any significant increases in intensity.
The official forecast now predicts Florence will be a 115-mph, Category 3 hurricane as it nears the coast of North and South Carolina on Friday and Saturday.
For Florida, that means high swells will work their way down from the northern reaches of the state, with Jacksonville issuing a high risk of rip currents for northern Florida and southern Georgia beaches on Tuesday. A warning of a high risk of rip currents from Daytona Beach to Stuart was also issued.
“These long-period swells can really scour the beaches because there’s more volume of water associated with each wave coming in,” said Matt Volkmer, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Melbourne. “There is a lot of energy.”
Pollock said Palm Beach may fly double red no-swimming flags if the surf gets too rough, but Kaes said he avoids doing that because he fears people will just go swim somewhere else away from a lifeguard.
“At least if we let them go in, we can see them,” he said.
The Florence swell is forecast to be short-lived, dying once the storm makes landfall.
For Palm Beach County, Florence-generated waves should linger into Saturday. The National Weather Service in Miami said major beach erosion is possible in northern Palm Beach County.
“We’re not going to get any direct impacts from Florence,” said Larry Kelly, a meteorologist in the Miami office of the NWS. “But we’ll still feel it on our Atlantic beaches.”
And travelers will feel the effects as well. More than 800 flights were canceled Wednesday in the Southeast by airlines anticipating the arrival of the storm, according to FlightAware. However, as of Wednesday afternoon, Palm Beach International Airport reported no cancellations for departing flights through Friday.
Although it remains uncertain exactly where Florence will make landfall, coastal airports like those in Wilmington, N.C., and Myrtle Beach, S.C., are likely to be among the first affected.
PBIA has several daily connecting flights to Wilmington and Myrtle Beach.
Friends of Palm Beach is taking part in the Ocean Conservancy’s International Coastal Cleanup on Saturday.
The island’s cleanup is from 9 to 11 a.m. at Indian Road; supplies will be provided along with water and snacks. Commemorative T-shirts are available on first-come, first-served basis.
Volunteers are asked to park on North Ocean Way and on Arabian and Caribbean roads. For more information, visit friendsofpalmbeach.com.
The International Coastal Cleanup is a worldwide, one-day volunteer effort. Other coastal cleanups scheduled in Palm Beach County include Delray Beach, Juno Beach, Lake Worth and West Palm Beach. Find out more at keeppbcbeautiful.org.
A yellow flag, symbolizing medium-hazard, moderate surf, flies at Midtown Beach on Wednesday. Lifeguards say conditions could worsen to warrant a red or double red flag.