10 a.m. Tuesday Hurricane Dorian update: rain, wind to start Wednesday afternoon
The National Weather Service office in Wilmington Tuesday morning said in its 9:30 press briefing that Hurricane Dorian’s effects will begin here Wednesday afternoon. The storm will likely be off the North Carolina coast as a category 2 or 3 storm Thursday with sustained winds of 100 miles an hour or higher possible near the beaches, however, tropical force winds are possible in Columbus County sometime Thursday, with gusts to 60 miles per hour projected.
Columbus County is now under a tropical storm watch as Hurricane Dorian moves northward.
Watches and warnings have been raised for the entire area.
The storm will intensify here Thursday into Thursday night. Six to 10 inches of rain is expected, with more possible in spots. Localized flash flooding with dangerous wash overs onto roads and highways is also possible.
Forecasters were careful to note that a track change to the east or west could significantly change conditions.
Models show the storm passing just off the coast as it heads north-northeast, though one model shows it coming through Columbus County, just as Matthew did three years ago; thus, residents can’t rule out a similar storm with 10-15 inches of rain. Forecasters said they don’t expect flooding as serious as that from Hurricane Florence, which stalled over the county for three days.
The summer drought should help matters, though creeks, rivers and streams will fill quickly with the level of rain possible.
Dorian is the second most powerful hurricane ever recorded on the East Coast. The storm was nearly stalled over the Bahamas Monday and Tuesday, pounding the islands with 20 foot storm surge, 165 mile per hour sustained winds and feet of rain.
South Carolina’s governor issued mandatory evacuation orders for all coastal areas Sunday night, reversing the direction of east bound lanes on all highways to and from the beaches. North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper declared a state of emergency Saturday, which frees up disaster relief resources during and after the storm.
“We’re currently at Condition One, which is minimal staffing but preparing,” said Whiteville Emergency Services Director Hal Lowder Jr. “I expect we’ll be setting up our command post before Tuesday.”
Chief Deputy Aaron Herring of the Columbus County Sheriff’s Office said deputies were putting the finishing touches on preparations at the agency Monday, including doing final checks on the new military surplus emergency vehicles obtained by the sheriff earlier this year. The MRAP and HMMV trucks have the ability to travel through deep floodwaters, a quality that proved vital during hurricanes Florence and Matthew.
“We’re going to be ready when and if we are needed,” Sheriff Jody Greene said Saturday. “We’re checking generators and getting ready.”
Dr. Marc Whichard, superintendent of the city school system, said he had toured all facilities and issued instructions to storm-proof the schools in preparation of some possibly being opened as shelters.
“We have a leadership meeting tomorrow (Tuesday),” he said, “and at that point, depending on the track, we’ll be making a decision on how to proceed.”
He said possible shelters have been identified, but their locations and opening times have not been confirmed.
“As we get closer we’ll have a better idea what we need to do,” Whichard said.
It’s not the superintendent’s first time dealing with hurricanes — he said 18 feet of water from Hurricane Matthew covered one of the schools in his former school district of Edgecombe County. He said he also “lost” a school during Hurricane Floyd.
“I think I’ve done five big storms now,” he said. “We have a good staff, and we’re going to be as ready as we can be.”
County schools are ready and waiting, Superintendent Deanne Meadows said.
“Right now we are working on making sure we are ready to provide shelters if we are needed,” she said. “When we receive word from the county, then we will make our plans and let parents know about closings. We’ll also let staff know if they’ll need to come in and work, if they can make up that time later. We will be putting that information out there as rapidly as possible.”
County Emergency Management Director Kay Worley and County Manager Mike Stephens did not return telephone calls or emails at presstime.
Local meteorologist Christopher Cawley said the lack of forward movement could throw landfall estimate and forecast tracks from earlier today out the window.
Whatever happens, Cawley said, there will be effects from Dorian in Columbus County, likely beginning midweek. Estimates from the Wilmington NWS office Monday morning seemed to indicate that on the current track, Dorian’s effect would primarily be along and east of a line drawn from Tabor City through Whiteville to Elizabethtown.
“All this is subject to change based on the actual track,” Cawley said.
Rainfall estimates were adjusted Monday to an anticipated 4-8 inches over the county.
“There will be lesser amounts the farther west you go, higher amounts east,” he said. “There will be a lot of variability in the amounts. What someone gets in Chadbourn may differ quite a bit from what I get in Whiteville and from what someone else gets at the lake.”
Both NWS Meteorologist Reid Hawkins and Cawley noted one good thing in the county’s favor — the ground is relatively dry in most of the county.
The flood gauge over Soules Swamp (near Southern Tire) in Whiteville showed a stage of 2.5 feet Monday morning. Minor flooding begins at seven feet.
“Yes, there will be flooding in parts of the city, but the city has done a lot of work in the past year to mitigate that threat,” Cawley said. “The lessons were learned from Florence and Matthew.”