Hurricane Dorian gave hints Monday of what lies ahead for the Carolinas coast, when the storm lashed “incessantly” at the Bahamas with 155 mph winds.
Forecasters continue to project the storm will reach the Orlando area of Florida Monday afternoon, then fall from Category 4 to a Category 3 or 2 hurricane as it begins hugging the East Coast toward North Carolina’s Outer Banks.
Dorian was 425 miles southeast of Charleston Monday, with a 20-mile wide eye, according to the S.C. State Climate Office.
A potential landfall site continues to elude the National Hurricane Center, suggesting the storm could batter the East Coast for days as it passes at a sluggish 1 mph.
The slower it moves, the more wind and rain will pummel the Carolinas coast, forecasters say. Currently, experts predict 5 to 10 inches of rain in the two Carolinas, with isolated areas of 15 inches.
Rain in the 2-to-4 inch range is expected in the central and western parts of the Carolinas, according to Weather.gov.
The rain will likely cause “minor or moderate flood stages” in the Cape Fear River, Black River, Northeast Cape Fear river and Waccamaw River, according to the National Weather Service.
“Long-term concerns (include) potential for flooding rain, storm surge, tornadoes and damaging winds, especially Wednesday and Thursday,” said the National Weather Service based out of Wilmington. “Tropical storm force winds could develop as early as Wednesday morning for northeast S.C. and Wednesday into Thursday morning for southeast N.C.”
Forecasters with the S.C. State Climate Office predict the storm’s winds will be reduced to around 100 mph by the time it parallels the South Carolina coast on Thursday. That would make the storm a Category 2 Hurricane. By then, “the center of circulation 50-60 miles offshore,” the climate office predicts.
The timing of the storm’s impact on the Carolinas continues to be adjusted, but the latest forecast calls for winds in the 40 to 70 mph range to arrive in South Carolina by 8 p.m. Tuesday and in North Carolina by 8 a.m. Wednesday.
“The risk of life-threatening storm surge and hurricane-force winds continue to increase along the coast of South Carolina and North Carolina,” the National Hurricane Center said Monday.
State of emergency
Counties along the North Carolina coast began bracing for the storm Monday.
- Hyde and Dare counties have enacted a State of Emergency, with the Hyde County commission warning households to review evacuation plans and be “prepared to take action if necessary.” Dare County officials have issued a mandatory evacuation for visitors beginning at noon Tuesday and for residents starting at 6 a.m. Wednesday.
- A state of emergency was also declared for North Carolina’s Bald Head Island, with “all renters and day visitors ordered to evacuate the island.”
- New Hanover County reported Monday that it was opening its Emergency Operations Center and closing county offices Tuesday “until further notice.”
- The University of North Carolina Wilmington announced it was canceling classes for the rest of the week and calling for a mandatory campus evacuation starting at 5 p.m. Tuesday.
- The Brunswick County school district announced it would be dismissing students early Tuesday, starting at 11:45 a.m.
- In South Carolina, the state’s Department of Transportation began aiding coastal evacuation by reversing Interstate 26. All lanes are now reversed to the westbound direction between I-77 in Columbia and I-526 in Charleston.
The storm was causing devastation in the Bahamas Monday. As much as 30 inches of rain was predicted in isolated areas, with 200 mph wind gusts and storm surge 23 feet above normal creating destructive waves, reported the National Hurricane Center. Storm damage is expected to be extreme, experts say.
“Hurricane-force winds extend outward up to 45 miles from the center and tropical-storm-force winds extend outward up to 140 miles,” the National Hurricane Center reported Monday.
Forecasters believe Dorian’s eye will not pass the the Outer Banks until 2 a.m. Friday, more than two days after the arrival of the first tropical force winds in the region.
The National Hurricane Center says Dorian is not forecast to make landfall along Florida, but “it is still possible for the hurricane to deviate from this forecast, and move very near or over the coast.” The storm is expected to weaken along the coast, but will “remain a powerful hurricane during the next couple of days.”
Isolated tornadoes were predicted to erupt late Monday along Florida’s east coast in advance of the storm, experts said.
“The hurricane will then move dangerously close to the Florida east coast late tonight through Wednesday evening and then move dangerously close to the Georgia and South Carolina coasts on Wednesday night and Thursday,” the National Hurricane Center said in an 11 a.m. Monday update.
“Although gradual weakening is forecast, Dorian is expected to remain a powerful hurricane during the next couple of days.”