A tropical storm warning has been issued for the southeastern coast of North Carolina as powerful Hurricane Matthew approaches Florida on what promises to be a destructive path northward.
The forecast remains relatively good for North Carolina, as the expected track of the storm includes a hard bend away from the state near Charleston, S.C., and out to sea. But during a news conference Thursday, Gov. Pat McCrory noted that predicting a hurricane’s behavior becomes more difficult when it interacts with land, as Matthew is expected to do in Florida and Georgia over the next two days.
“Our guard is still up,” McCrory said Thursday afternoon in Kinston. “Even though the hurricane is still scheduled to take a right turn to the east right above Charleston, we realize that is only about 80 to 100 miles away from the North Carolina border. If there’s any change in that, it could cause us some major, major issues.”
Even if the center of Matthew misses North Carolina, McCrory said, the southeastern part of the state will receive up to a foot of rain, wind gusts of 45 to 60 mph and storm surges of 4 feet or more. McCrory said his message for residents is: “Don’t let up your guard. Prepare for potential electric outages. Prepare for potential flooding ... and also just in case there is an evacuation be prepared for that evacuation.”
The tropical storm warning covers the coast from Brunswick County north to Surf City. It means that part of the coast can expect sustained winds of at least 39 mph in the next 36 hours.
The American Red Cross said it plans to open three storm shelters Friday morning in Brunswick County, where officials have urged residents of flood-prone and low-lying areas to evacuate. The Red Cross will also open four shelters in Columbus County and another in Burgaw in Pender County.
State officials began urging people to prepare for the storm Monday, when McCrory declared a State of Emergency 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.
McCrory expanded the State of Emergency declaration late Thursday to include all 100 counties to help provide resources for the eastern part of the state.
At 5 p.m. Thursday, the National Hurricane Center said Matthew was a Category 4 storm centered 100 miles east-southeast of West Palm Beach, Fla. Matthew’s top sustained winds were 140 mph, and it was moving northwest at 13 mph.
Hurricane warnings have been extended northward to Edisto Beach, S.C., and the hurricane watch has been extended northward to South Santee River, S.C., including the Charleston area.
State agencies, including the N.C. National Guard, the Department of Transportation and the State Highway Patrol, have staged people and equipment in various places in Eastern North Carolina in case they’re needed. McCrory said that if North Carolina is spared the brunt of the storm as expected, it will offer help to South Carolina, including helicopters and swift water rescue teams.
North Carolina had expected to take a direct hit from Matthew until Wednesday morning. The forecast changed in part when Matthew slowed down over the Caribbean, reducing the influence of an upper-level trough of low pressure that had been expected to steer the storm northward into the Carolinas, said Ryan Ellis, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Raleigh. There’s still some uncertainty in the models, Ellis said, as well as factors, such as its interaction with land along the coast, that could change the storm’s strength and trajectory.
“This has been one of the hardest ones to predict that I can remember,” Ellis said.