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Although it’s currently just a tropical storm, former-hurricane Florence is forecast to become a major problem for the US Southeast coast — and air travel up and down the East Coast — later this week. The storm is expected to undergo rapid strengthening this weekend, with models predicting that the tropical storm will become a major hurricane before striking the US coast on Thursday or Friday.

While Florence is still well off of the US coast, effects from the storm are expected to begin today or tomorrow. The National Hurricane Center (NHC) warns that large swells are expected to create “life-threatening surf and rip currents” starting this weekend and continuing into next week. So, beachgoers along the US East Coast should be cautious.

However, the major threat from the storm is expected to come later in the week. Currently, the storm is expected to strengthen into a “dangerous major hurricane” with 145 mph top sustained winds by midday Wednesday. By that point, Florence is forecast to be barreling forward toward the Carolina coast at a high forward speed.

Although there’s usually a lot of variance in hurricane predicted tracks, the so-called “spaghetti models” are in surprising agreement on the future path of this storm — and it’s bad news for the Carolinas:

Image courtesy of the Hurricane Forecast Model Output of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

At this point, it’d be premature for airlines to release travel waivers. However, there are likely to be major impacts on travel from this storm. Florence is predicted to have a very fast forward motion when it makes landfall on the US East Coast, meaning not just airports near the coast will be affected. Two major airline hubs — Delta’s Atlanta (ATL) and American Airlines’ Charlotte (CLT) — are potentially in the path of the storm. Either or both could face mass cancellations and delays next Friday and Saturday.

If you’re planning to travel to/from/through the Southeast later this week, it’s even more critical than normal that you book the trip with a card that offers solid trip delay and cancellation insurance.

Although the Citi Prestige used to be my go-to for booking flights, a recent devaluation to the card’s travel benefits knocked it out of its top spot. Currently, I’m using my Chase Sapphire Reserve to book my flights going forward. Other top choices are the Chase Sapphire Preferred CardCiti / AAdvantage Executive World Elite Mastercard and the Citi Premier Card.

Know before you go.

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Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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