Hurricane Dorian moves away from NC coast after Cape Hatteras landfall
The impact of Hurricane Dorian’s strong winds and heavy rainfall will be felt beyond the state’s coastal communities as the storm moves along the S.C. coast later this week, officials said.
On Tuesday, S.C. Gov. Henry McMaster warned residents that potentially dangerous impacts will be felt even if the storm’s eye remains off the coast.
“South Carolina is still in the path of what is still a destructive, deadly storm,” McMaster said during a news conference with other state officials.
Though the eye of the storm is projected to cross miles off the state’s coast, the Palmetto State is expected to see storm surges, up to 10 inches of rain in some areas and possible “dramatic” flash flooding, “especially in Charleston, where the tide could rise to over 10 feet, which is about 5 feet higher than usual,” McMaster said.
As the slow moving storm crawls across the coast, areas of the Lowcountry will likely see sustained hurricane force winds, and the Midlands may see tropical storm force winds along with gusts that are hurricane force, McMaster said.
However, the forecast — and the threat to the state — could change for worse if Dorian makes a westward shift “of just a few miles,” which “could bring enormous damage,” the governor said.
McMaster again urged residents to evacuate coastal areas under the emergency order he issued over the holiday weekend. As of 8 a.m. Tuesday morning, more than 244,000 of the 830,000 people under the order were estimated to have fled the evacuation areas, state officials said. About 10% to 15% of those were tourists.
“We want to prepare for the worst, but, of course, we want to pray for the best,” McMaster said. “If you are in the evacuation zones ... the time to leave is now.”
Lane reversal operations on I-26 in South Carolina will cease at noon Wednesday so that crews can seek shelter at safe locations outside of the storm’s projected path.
S.C. Department of Transportation Secretary Christy Hall noted heavy traffic volumes along I-26 heading west from the coast. She said 3,200 vehicles per hour were traveling west along the evacuation corridor, well above the highway’s normal capacity. A total of 54,000 vehicles had traveled westbound on I-26 since Sunday’s evacuation order, Hall said.
SC agencies preparing for impact
As of Tuesday afternoon, 20 emergency shelters had opened across the state. With a capacity to accommodate up to 10,000, the shelters were housing 410 people so far, according to Michael Leach, director of the state Department of Social Services.
Dorian weakened Tuesday morning to a Category 2 storm with maximum sustained winds near 110 mph. But Dorian’s path shifted closer to South Carolina and was slowly growing in size Tuesday afternoon.
The storm’s slow pace has also stoked forecasters’ fears the Carolinas could see an extended lashing of heavy winds and torrential rain.
The National Hurricane Center has issued a hurricane warning for the entire S.C. coast, from north of Savannah River to Surf City, N.C.
Tropical storm force winds in the 40 to 70 mph range could reach southern counties in South Carolina Wednesday, escalating to hurricane conditions by Wednesday night, according to the National Hurricane Center’s 5 p.m. update.
And life-threatening storm surges could raise water levels by as much as 4 to 7 feet above normal tide levels in low-lying coastal areas, beginning as early as Wednesday morning, according to forecasters. Near the coast, the surge will be accompanied by “battering waves,” the hurricane center said Tuesday.
Days of heavy rain could dump anywhere from 5 to 10 inches of rainfall along the S.C. coast, with the potential for up to 15 inches in isolated pockets, producing life-threatening flash floods that could prompt many rescues, forecasters said Tuesday evening.
“If you live along the coast and haven’t prepared yet, because you feel Dorian won’t be a threat ... you’re making a mistake,” National Weather Service meteorologist John Quagliariello said. “If you wait until the last minute to leave on Wednesday, you may not be able to because low-lying coastal roadways may already be flooded.”
DOT Secretary Hall said DOT officials are analyzing storm surge models to determine what protective measures may need to be put in place.
Flood waters from Hurricane Florence last year closed sections of S.C. 9, a main route through the Pee Dee, and DOT crews built a temporary, 1.5-mile barrier on the U.S. 501 Bypass in Conway to prevent floodwaters from washing out the only route crossing the Waccamaw River leading into the Myrtle Beach area.
“At this point in time, I haven’t identified that as one of the areas of concern; however, we do know that with king tides and possibility of storm surge we are anticipating issues ... around the Edisto Causeway and U.S. 21,” Hall said. “If and when we need (flood barriers), we will have them pre-positioned and ready to go and in place in advance of any flooding issues.”
On Sunday, McMaster announced evacuation orders for parts of eight coastal counties as Dorian moved slowly toward the state’s coast: Beaufort, Berkeley, Charleston, Colleton, Dorchester, Georgetown, Horry and Jasper counties. The governor also closed state offices and schools in those counties, which will remain closed Wednesday, he said.
McMaster did not call for any additional school or government office closures Tuesday.
Strong winds, heavy rain in Midlands
In the Midlands, residents can expect to see tropical storm force winds and heavy rain as early as Wednesday afternoon, according to a release from the National Weather Service.
Six S.C. counties located inland of the state’s coastal areas — Bamberg, Orangeburg, Calhoun, Clarendon, Lee and Sumter — were placed on a tropical storm warnings Tuesday, according to the National Weather Service.
Those areas could see up to 5 inches of rain, depending on where the storm moves.
Columbia is currently projected to get an inch or less of rain.
More than 2,000 members of state law enforcement and the S.C. National Guard have been activated ahead of Hurricane Dorian. And additional personnel and equipment are being brought in to the state to aid with potential high-water and search-and-rescue operations.
McMaster warned that coastal residents who stay may be on their own if first responders are unavailable to get them during the storm.
“To be safe, you need to leave,” he said.