As Hurricane Michael moves inland in Florida, North Carolina is preparing for heavy rain and strong winds from the storm.
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As of about 5:40 p.m. Wednesday, a flood watch was issued for much of central North Carolina, and a tropical storm warning was in effect for most of central and eastern North Carolina, according to the National Weather Service in Raleigh.
Florence hit many of the same areas last month, causing widespread flooding.
Michael is expected to move over the Carolinas as a tropical storm beginning Thursday “producing very heavy rainfall.”
“A tropical storm warning means tropical storm force winds are expected in the area in the next 36 hours,” the NWS said. Winds from Michael could reach 57 mph in the Carolinas.
The heaviest rain is expected “late Thursday morning” and Thursday evening, with 3 to 7 inches of rain expected in central North Carolina. The rain could fall at rates of up to 1 to 2 inches per hour, according to NWS which could lead to flash flooding.
“Overly saturated ground and weakened trees” in areas hit hardest by Florence means a risk of power outages across the southeastern parts of the state, according to the NWS.
“Tornadoes will become likely especially Thursday morning and midday” in southeastern North Carolina the NWS Wilmington office reported.
Gov. Roy Cooper declared a state of emergency Wednesday morning in 66 North Carolina counties before Hurricane Michael made landfall in Florida as a Category 4 storm at about 1:30 p.m.
The governor called it “a dreadful storm” that “poses serious risks in North Carolina.”
“North Carolina is staring down another powerful hurricane less than a month (after) Hurricane Florence battered our state,” Cooper said at a news conference.
The storm’s track would take it into the Carolinas, dropping as much as 7 inches of rain in some parts of central North Carolina, Cooper said in a news release. Rain is expected statewide, with the hardest rain Thursday, he said.
Michael could lead to up to 500,000 power outages in the Carolinas and some could last “days,” Duke Energy announced Wednesday evening.
In the Triangle, most school systems will shut down Thursday, including Wake County, Durham Public Schools, Johnston County schools, Orange County schools, Chatham County schools and Chapel Hill-Carrboro schools. Extracurricular and athletics have been canceled Thursday in those districts, The News & Observer reported.
“Hurricane Michael hit Florida with brutal force and is quickly heading for North Carolina,” Cooper said in a statement. “Michael will lose some of its punch before it reaches us but will still pack damaging wind and flooding rain and we need to take it seriously.”
Coastal areas should expect storm surge and coastal flooding, according to the NWS. A storm surge watch (2-4 feet of flooding possible) was in effect for the sound-side of the Outer Banks from Ocracoke Inlet to Duck as of Wednesday evening.
The N.C. State Fair delayed its opening until Friday, The N&O reported. The fair had been set to start Thursday afternoon in Raleigh.
Cooper’s emergency declaration authorizes the state to help respond to the storm, paves the way for requesting further assistance and triggers a state law against price gouging. Cooper also activated the National Guard, and 150 troops had reported for duty as of Wednesday evening.
There are still 11 shelters open in North Carolina after Florence, according to information provided at the state news conference. So far, there is no discussion of opening others.
Cooper also waived restrictions on trucks and heavy vehicles traveling through North Carolina, his office said in a news release, and activated 150 National Guard troops who will report for duty Wednesday.
“We know people are storm weary from Florence, but we must not let down our guard for Michael,” Cooper said in the statement.