UPDATE: FRIDAY, 9:30 AM
The latest models for Hurricane Irma from the National Weather Service has the storm pushing west of Charlotte. The path means potential sustained winds of over 35 mph in Lee County, but far less potential for severe damage than forecasts from a day earlier. This is good news for our area — terrible news for much of Georgia and the western portions of the Carolinas.
ORIGINAL STORY (Thursday, Sept. 7)
We’re not going to be the next Houston. And we’re not in anywhere near the same danger as Miami, either.
That said, current models for Hurricane Irma — the unusually powerful Category 5 storm bearing down on South Florida as we speak — have the latter part of the projected path hitting the Carolinas by Monday. Some forecasts have Irma as a potential Category 1 or 2 hurricane by the time it hits our region. Others predict it will be downgraded to a tropical storm by then.
The consensus is that Irma will have an effect on the Piedmont in some way. Gov. Roy Cooper has declared a state of emergency for the entire state, and local emergency officials are working overtime to prepare for impact.
Emergency Services Director Shane Seagroves said Thursday that tropical storm conditions — rain and strong winds — could begin in our area as early as Monday. While the path of the storm has changed with each update, Seagroves says the current model has the eye pointed at Savannah, Ga., heading north to Charlotte.
If this path holds true, Lee County would be positioned east of the eye, making it more susceptible to heavy rain, stronger winds and possible tornadoes.
“Honestly, the path keeps changing, but once you’re five days out, you can start narrowing it down,” Seagroves says. “We’ll probably start seeing those rain bands on Monday, and [the eye] is expected to hit the North Carolina/South Carolina line Tuesday morning.”
Compared to past storms
Seagroves says if Irma hits Savannah and on to Charlotte, it will follow a similar path of Hurrican Hugo in 1989.
From the Charlotte Observer on Wednesday: Like Irma, Hugo grew into a rare Category 5 storm that devastated islands in the Caribbean before reaching the U.S. in September 1989. Its 160 mph winds nearly killed the government hurricane-hunter aircraft that tried to assess it. … Gusts of 63 mph were being recorded at Charlotte’s airport and eventually reached 100 mph. Charlotte lost 80,000 trees to the storm and some places were without electricity for weeks. Hugo killed 27 people in South Carolina and seven in North Carolina.
Unlike Irma, Hugo didn’t have Florida slowing it down on its way north. The National Weather Service doesn’t expect Irma to hit Georgia and the Carolinas with the same force.
If you’ve been to the grocery store in the last 24 hours, this isn’t news. The bottled water, bread and milk aisles are all but wiped out. The closer we get to Monday, the higher the odds you’ll see lines at the gas station, too.
You only have to go back a year to see the damage a hurricane can have on cities as far inland as Sanford or Fayetteville. Hurricane Matthew in August 2016 caused considerable flooding in Fayetteville — deadly flooding in Lumberton and other cities east of I-905 — and led to multiple-day “water boil advisory” in Lee County (in addition to downing some trees and flooding some roads).
Does that mean stock up on a month’s supply of water? Seagroves says that line of thinking is what leads to the shortages.
“Those shortages, like the recent gas shortages after Harvey, are often self-imposed,” he says. “I’d say shop like you normally do, and buy enough of the essentials to last. It’s when people get into panic mode all at once where we see the shortages.”
Don’t forget, Hurricane José is expected to become a “major hurricane” Friday morning. Its projected path at the U.S. is still unclear.
STAY UP TO DATE: Weather Channel’s Irma Page