Published: 2016-10-06 05:50:00
Updated: 2016-10-06 23:34:40
Posted October 6, 2016
Raleigh, N.C. — Despite avoiding a direct strike from powerful Hurricane Matthew, North Carolina could still feel plenty of its rage.
Hurricane Matthew strengthened overnight as it passed through the Bahamas on its way to Florida, but a new forecast track on Thursday morning continued to show the storm pushing away from North Carolina.
As the storm plowed over parts of the Bahamas Thursday morning, it strengthened into a Category 4 storm again with sustained winds of 140 mph.
Matthew was moving toward the Florida coast at about 13 mph with winds at 130 mph at 11 p.m. and was 600 miles south of Hatteras, North Carolina.
A tropical storm warning was issued Thursday afternoon from points north of South Santee River, South Carolina to Surf City, North Carolina. A hurricane warning was extended northward to South Santee River as well.
Forecasters said Matthew will likely produce "devastating" impacts from storm surge, winds and heavy rains in the northwestern Bahamas and along extensive portions of the east coast of Florida between Thursday afternoon and early Friday.
Walt Disney Wold and other Orlando theme parks announced that they would be closing Thursday evening and may remain closed through Saturday because of the storm. WRAL meteorologist Mike Maze said that hurricane watches and warnings had been issued for much of Florida and by 8 p.m., storm force winds will be felt from Fort Lauderdale to Port St. Lucie as the storm could potentially make landfall as a Category 4 hurricane near Port Canaveral.
The American computer forecast model predicted the storm would continue to the hug east coast until it gets swept out into the Atlantic Ocean and possibly pushed back toward the Bahamas next week.
"There are going to be many big communities along the east coast [of Florida] that will be hit," Maze said.
Matthew is the first time a major hurricane has hit Florida since 2005.
In a change Thursday night, forecast models no longer showed Matthew making landfall in Florida, but the eye of the storm would still track closely along the coast, causing significant impact.
"Even if we don't get a landfall, that doesn't mean by any stretch of the imagination that Florida is off the hook," WRAL Chief Meteorologist Greg Fishel said.
Matthew will likely be off the Georgia coast early Saturday morning and then hug the South Carolina coast during the day Saturday before turning to the east. The storm will make a hard right turn after moving up the coast to South Carolina and could perhaps circle back to Florida.
"The exact timing on when that turn occurs will determine how much rain and how much wind North Carolina gets," Fishel said.
Maze said there are a few models that carry the storm closer to North Carolina before it turns east.
"We will not let our guard down until it passes North Carolina and makes that turn," he said.
Though most models show North Carolina being spared a direct hit, the storm will still be strong enough to do damage.
"Even though the strongest winds won't make it into North Carolina, we could be devastated by some very heavy rainfall," Maze said.
Communities at the southern tip of North Carolina could see between 10 to 12 inches of rain while the Triangle could see about 2 to 3 inches. A flash flood watch was in effect for a large portion of the state, including Cumberland, Edgecombe, Harnett, Hoke, Johnston and Moore counties, from 6 p.m. Friday through 6 p.m. Sunday.
As a precaution, Cumberland County Schools, Moore County Schools, Hoke County Schools and Harnett County Schools will close two hours early on Friday for students and staff. All after school activities are canceled.
In a news conference on Thursday morning, Gov. Pat McCrory said resources are still in place to be able to respond quickly to an problem areas, especially if the storm takes an unexpected turn. McCrory said even though the storm's eye isn't expected to hit the state, its effects could still be dangerous.
"The currents and the ocean and the surge—if people do foolish things there could be loss of life, and that’s what we do not want to happen," McCrory said.
McCrory on Thursday afternoon expanded a state of emergency to all 100 of North Carolina's counties. McCrory said the declaration will allow the state to move resources in preparation for any affects Hurricane Matthew may bring over the next two days.
"This declaration will allow us to use further resources throughout the state to assist with the storm response here at home and to our neighboring states to the south," he said in a statement. "It will also allow us to better support evacuees heading further inland from impacted areas, including the North Carolina coast."
The storm will weaken to a Category 2 storm as it barrels up the coast. By Saturday night and into Sunday morning, Matthew will be sitting off the coast of Wilmington. Current forecast models show it pushing southeast by Monday.
Maze said that rain could linger in North Carolina through part of the day on Sunday.
'I think we're going to be able to salvage part of Sunda," he said.
Windy conditions will remain through Monday, will a breeze staying in place through mid-week.
"Our entire weekend could really just be wet and nasty," Maze said. "We're going to feel the effects of this for quite some time."