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Matthew could strengthen to Category 4, stays off NC coast

Posted October 5

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— Hurricane Matthew was barreling through the Bahamas and taking aim at Florida Wednesday afternoon, but the powerful hurricane could have less of an impact on North Carolina if current forecast models hold up over the next two days.

An 11 p.m. update from the National Hurricane Center shifted the track slightly but continued to show the storm staying well to the east of the North Carolina coast, although the exact track the storm will take remains unclear.

The Category 3 Hurricane was maintaining its intensity Wednesday night with winds of 115 mph, but WRAL Chief Meteorologist Greg Fishel said the storm could potentially make landfall in Florida on Thursday Night or Friday morning as a Category 4 storm.

"It looks like the system still has the potential to strengthen a bit as we head on through the next 24 hours as it approaches the Florida coast and moves over some very, very warm water," he said.

After the storm crosses over Florida, it is expected to turn to the north or northeast, but the path after that remains unclear.

"What happens after that is literally anybody's guess," Fishel said.

Some models show the storm going over water and crossing over Florida again before moving into the Gulf of Mexico but others keep the storm in the Atlantic Ocean. Both scenarios keep Hurricane Matthew further away from the coast than originally expected.

"The bottom line is the chance of having hurricane force winds along our coast is less than it was 24 hours ago," Fishel said.

Matthew will hug the Florida coastline on Thursday night and Friday, and it could have winds of up to 130 mph as it rakes past the Sunshine State. Fishel said it is still unclear whether or not the storm will actually make landfall in the state or if it will just follow the coast. Matthew will likely be offshore around the Georgia-South Carolina border by Saturday morning and then well off the coast between North Carolina and South Carolina by Sunday morning.

If the storm does stay farther offshore, both the Triangle and Coastal communities will see less rain and strong wind. WRAL meteorologist Mike Maze said that the impact from the storm would be seen Friday night through Saturday night.

Winds in North Carolina would be between 10 and 25 mph with gusts at 35 mph. Rainfall could still be plentiful with 5 to 7 inches from Wilmington to Cumberland County and less inland. The Triangle could see about 1 inch of rain, but any shift in the storm's path could increase or decrease rainfall totals.

Fishel said that after the storm takes a turn to the east, it could be downgraded to a tropical storm by early next week.

'Unfortunately, this is going to be a feature on weather maps for quite some time to come," he said.

Gov. Pat McCrory called the updated forecasts good news, especially for North Carolina's agricultural community, which is already burdened with heavily saturated land. But despite the change, McCrory said residents should remain cautious.

"This does not mean we don't keep our guards up because as we've learned in the past, these models can change at a moment's notice as they have done in the last 24 hours," McCrory said Wednesday at a press conference.

McCrory noted that the storm is slow moving and still brings concerns for flooding. He said he will meet with the Army Corps of Engineers, along with the governors of South Carolina and Georgia, Thursday morning to discuss dam release and generation assistance.

"We're ready to move. We're still guarded," he said Wednesday evening.

McCrory said a state of emergency is still in effect for 66 counties in central and eastern North Carolina, including in Hyde County where mandatory evacuations have been ordered for Ocracoke Island. Resources from the National Guard, North Carolina State Highway Patrol and Red Cross are still standing by to handle any unexpected turns, McCrory said.

A statement issued Tuesday said the mandatory evacuation for Ocracoke Island visitors will begin at 5 a.m. Wednesday. Resident and non-resident property owners, vendors and critical infrastructure providers will be permitted to travel to and from the island, but must be able to show proof to gain access.

Ferries to and from Ocracoke Island will run as scheduled on Wednesday and Thursday, but not on Friday.

Hyde County has canceled a proposed mandatory evacuation in light of the new storm track, McCrory said.

The Red Cross on Tuesday said it was in need of volunteers to assist with potential response to the storm, especially residents in Wilmington, Elizabeth City, Greenville, Rocky Mount, Fayetteville, Goldsboro, Raleigh and Durham. The organization placed emphasis on volunteers who could assist with sheltering, feeding and operational support.

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