The forecasted path of Hurricane Matthew has shifted west, and the center of the storm is now expected to make landfall somewhere in southern North Carolina as a Category 2 storm on Saturday.
The massive storm, now a Category 4 with sustained winds of 140 mph, is moving north over Haiti and eastern Cuba and expected to cross the Bahamas on Wednesday, according to the National Hurricane Center. At 11 a.m. Tuesday, the Hurricane Center issued a tropical storm watch for the Miami area and parts of the Florida Keys, and a hurricane watch for the central east coast of Florida.
Matthew should weaken as it moves north but will still be a dangerous storm as it approaches the Carolinas. The National Weather Service expects tropical storm conditions to reach the southern North Carolina coast Friday night, with bands of showers from Matthew reaching the Triangle that evening.
State officials began urging people to prepare for the storm on Monday, and the new forecasts have given that message new urgency. Tuesday afternoon, the University of North Carolina at Wilmington issued a mandatory campus evacuation for all students by noon Thursday. All classes, events, trips and activities scheduled for 5 p.m. Wednesday or later have been canceled.
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Dare County issued its own State of Emergency on Tuesday and urged residents to be ready to evacuate.
“Hurricane Matthew is a strong, dangerous storm that, on its current track, is expected to bring significant to catastrophic impacts to Dare County,” county officials wrote in an advisory to residents at 5 p.m.
A cold front is expected to eventually steer the storm toward the northeast and out to sea, but it’s not clear when and what that mean for North Carolina.
“The question is timing – when is that all going to happen,” Kathleen Carroll, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service office in Raleigh, said Tuesday morning. “That’s what we’re trying to figure out now. Is the front going to come in faster? Will it slow down?”
On Monday, Gov. Pat McCrory declared a State of Emergency on Monday for 66 counties in central and eastern North Carolina, from the coast to west of Winston-Salem. McCrory said he made the declaration partly at the urging of Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler, because it would lift weight and other restrictions for trucks being used to bring in crops ahead of the storm.
State officials now expect 4 to 8 inches of rain over the weekend across eastern North Carolina, with winds of up to 73 miles per hour along the coast beginning Friday.
“With each subsequent forecast, the impacts to our state appear to be more substantial,” McCrory said in a statement Tuesday afternoon. “I cannot stress enough how critical it is that all of our residents in central and eastern North Carolina begin preparations for their families and homes.”
As he did Monday, McCrory urged people to make sure their home storm kits are fully stocked and that they’ve thought about where they would go if they need to evacuate.
McCrory noted that recent flooding rains have left parts of Eastern North Carolina particularly vulnerable to additional flooding and fallen trees if Matthew brings heavy rain. Areas around Fayetteville and north of Albemarle Sound are still cleaning up after floods last month.