As Hurricane Dorian begins to move up the East Coast, forecasters have become more certain that the worst of the wind and rain in North Carolina will remain east of Interstate 95.
As of late Wednesday morning, the center of Dorian was still off the coast of Florida, moving north-northwestward at about 9 mph, according to the National Hurricane Center. The storm is expected to slowly shift northward and begin moving up the East Coast toward the Carolinas in the next couple of days.
Even if the center of the storm remains offshore, coastal flooding, heavy rain and tropical force winds of up to 75 mph are expected along the North Carolina coast starting Thursday into Friday. The National Hurricane Center says 5 to 10 inches of rain are likely in coastal areas of the Carolinas, which some places getting as much as 15.
By then, Dorian is expected to be moving northeast, toward the open ocean once it clears Cape Hatteras. If it remains on that track, the Triangle will get no more than some heavy rain and gusty winds of 30 to 40 mph, said Kathleen Carroll, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service office in Raleigh. The tropical storm warning issued for Eastern North Carolina now covers an area that includes Wake, Franklin, Johnston and Harnett counties.
The weather service said Tuesday evening that 2 to 6 inches of rain could fall in eastern portions of Central North Carolina from Thursday morning into Friday, resulting in some localized flooding. Wake County is expected to receive 1 to 3 inches.
The “cone of uncertainty,” the widening lines that define the expected track of the storm in the coming days, has narrowed as the storm gets closer to the Carolinas, putting the Triangle beyond the western edge where forecasters think hurricane conditions are possible.
“Any small shift in the track of the storm is going to have a huge impact on the winds that we see and the rain that we see,” Carroll said. “It’s really going to depend on the exact location of the storm.”
Being on the edge of the storm means Triangle residents may see vastly different kinds of weather on Thursday, Carroll said. Areas just north and west of the area may see far less wind and rain than those on the southeast side, she said.
“It’s going to be that sharp of a gradient,” she said.
In a nod to the uncertainty of Dorian’s path, Gov. Roy Cooper declared a state of emergency on Saturday that applied to all 100 counties, not just coastal areas. Late Sunday, he urged everyone in the state to pay close attention to hurricane forecasts and to prepare for the worst.
On Monday, Cooper said he activated 300 state National Guard members and that they and search and swift water rescue teams were ready to respond if needed. He urged residents to make their own preparations and to consult readync.org if they needed help deciding what to do.
“Preparations that you can make now could save your life later or lessen the chance that you might need rescue or shelter during a storm,” he said.
With Hurricane Florence fresh in everyone’s memories, Katie Webster, the meteorologist for the state Department of Emergency Management, noted that Dorian is expected to be a different kind of storm. While Florence made landfall near Wilmington and dumped record amounts of rain on the Carolinas over several days, forecasters think Dorian will strike a glancing blow on the state, then quickly move out to sea.
“I don’t think at this point we are anticipating the large amounts of rain that we saw in Hurricane Florence,” Webster said.
Cooper said he asked President Donald Trump for a federal disaster declaration in advance of the storm, to clear the way for federal assistance if North Carolina needs it. Sen. Thom Tillis tweeted late Monday that Trump told him by phone that he would grant Cooper’s request and “assured me that North Carolina will have the full resources of the federal government to respond to #HurricaneDorian.”