The center of Hurricane Matthew is expected to make landfall somewhere in southern North Carolina as a Category 2 storm on Saturday, but the storm’s exact path along the coast remains uncertain.
The massive storm, now a Category 4 with sustained winds of 140 mph, moved north over Haiti and eastern Cuba on Tuesday and is expected to cross the Bahamas on Wednesday, according to the National Hurricane Center. The Hurricane Center issued a hurricane watch for the central east coast of Florida on Tuesday, with more watches and warnings to come.
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.
Hyde County has mandated the evacuation of all Ocracoke Island visitors beginning at 5 a.m. Wednesday, to be followed by a mandatory evacuation for all residents at 5 a.m. Thursday.
The N.C. Department of Transportation’s Ferry Division is assisting with the phased evacuation, according to a news release posted around 10 p.m. Tuesday. On Wednesday, only residents, property owners, vendors, and critical infrastructure providers with Ocracoke re-entry documentation will be allowed on ferries inbound to Ocracoke. On Thursday, only emergency personnel and vendors will be allowed onto the island.
Priority boarding will be suspended for all vessels leaving Ocracoke Wednesday morning and tolls will be waived for ferries heading from Ocracoke to Cedar Island or Swan Quarter. All ferry service to and from Ocracoke will end Thursday night at midnight, to allow all ferries and ferry personnel to find safe harbor from the storm.
State officials began urging people to prepare for the storm Monday, and the latest forecasts have given that message new urgency. On Tuesday afternoon, UNC-Wilmington issued a mandatory campus evacuation for all students by noon Thursday and canceled all classes, events and activities scheduled for 5 p.m. Wednesday or later.
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 will 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. “That’s what we’re trying to figure out now. Is the front going to come in faster? Will it slow down?”
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.
Prepare for the storm
Determine if you are in a storm surge zone
Residents living in storm surge zones may be ordered to evacuate. Evacuation zones will be identified by local emergency managers through the news media. You also should know if your home is located in a flood plain. Visit ncfloodmaps.com to determine if you are in a flood zone.
Gather supplies and prepare an emergency kit
A storm kit should contain nonperishable food, water (one gallon per person per day) and clothing to sustain each family member for three to seven days. The kit should include a flashlight, radio, spare batteries, blankets, rain gear and appropriate footwear.
Fuel cars, obtain cash and secure important documents
Fill vehicles with gas and have enough cash on hand to last a week in case of evacuation. During power outages, gas stations and ATM machines do not work. Secure original copies of documents in a waterproof container in case of flooding.
Protect your home
Supplies, such as lumber and shutters, should be purchased now, and window casing pre-drilled. Clear property of all debris that could damage buildings in strong winds, and store vehicles in a garage if possible.
For more information, go to ReadyNC.org.